NOW THAT PHARMA companies can no longer entice doctors to attend promotional programs with promises of baseball tickets, golf games, and fancy dinners, they are turning to a different kind of incentive: medically relevant items — and New York-based Medsite is there to help. Through its Medsite Rewards program, companies can give doctors gifts that are in compliance with the AMA Ethical Opinion on Gifts to Physicians, the PhRMA code, and the OIG pharmaceutical marketing compliance guidance, says Sanjay Pingle, executive vice president, Medsite. Companies can choose from more than 20,000 different products that are worth $100 or less and are for use in the patient-care setting or in the physician's office, he says. “How can you say it's bad to give a physician a textbook?”

Here's how it works: A pharma company selects the gifts it wants to make available to physicians who are participating in dinner meetings, teleconferences, or other programs. Med-site issues Medsite Rewards certificates to the attendees, who then redeem them. This process gives companies the ability to choose gifts that are permissible within their own compliance program.

“One of the things that we realized early on is that our interpretation of the guidelines and rules doesn't really matter,” says Pingle. “We take ourselves out of the interpretation business, and make the service flexible enough to cater to each different pharmaceutical or biotech company's interpretation of those guidelines. We work with our clients' regulatory and compliance departments.”

It will probably come as no surprise to readers that Pingle has found that companies have dramatically different interpretations of the regulations. At one extreme are firms that do not allow any gift-giving to physicians; at the other end of the spectrum are companies that allow physicians to get a certificate that can be redeemed for any of the items that we carry in our warehouse or in our catalogue, says Pingle. But most of Medsite Rewards' more than seventy clients will cull the list down to a “few hundred items that they feel are completely above board and beyond question.” Even though Medsite doesn't impose its own interpretation of the regulations on its clients, there are lines it will not cross. “If a client were to say, ‘We'd like to have you ship golf balls out of the warehouse,’ that's not something that we would do,” Pingle says.

Tracking the Gifts

Medsite also helps its pharmaceutical clients stay in compliance with regulations by centralizing and tracking physician gifts, issuing program performance reports that keep companies up-to-date on the certificates they've given. “If you have 100 vendors all doing 100 different things, you have a very hard time keeping track of who's getting what,” says Pingle. In addition to following federal rules, pharma companies also have to comply with state laws regulating physician gifts. In Vermont, for example, pharma companies must report the gifts they give physicians. Medsite keeps track of the state regulations and helps companies meet the reporting requirements.

But do gifts such as medical textbooks and equipment really motivate doctors to attend promotional programs — especially since they are no longer allowed to bring their spouses? According to a Medsite Rewards customer survey, 67 percent of physicians said they would attend a meeting that offered a $100 Medsite Rewards certificate, as opposed to 1.5 percent who said they would attend with no certificate. Nevertheless, Pingle reminds pharma meeting planners: The No. 1 factor doctors consider is whether or not they're interested in the clinical message.

Getting Doctors to Attend

Recruiting physicians to attend programs is not only more difficult because of the government crackdown on pharma's promotional activities; it is becoming increasingly challenging because of the new and pending legislation curtailing marketing via fax and e-mail. To help its clients, Medsite has tapped into its physician database, asking doctors if they would like to be contacted about pharmaceutical events, and if so, what formats, locations, and content categories they are interested in. Medsite then e-mails physicians about relevant programs.

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