MANY OF US are struggling with how to interpret the wave of new regulations around medical meetings. With an intense focus on conflict of interest, commercial support guidelines, and limits on gifts to physicians, a decidedly somber tone has taken over most medical meetings. Many of us are nervous that holding a medical meeting in an enticing venue such as Florida or Hawaii would violate one of the many new rules and regulations. Not so, says Nancy Marotta, manager of medical educational programs for the Massachusetts Medical Society in Waltham, Mass., which was recently awarded a six-year CME accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education for exemplary compliance.

Enticing Locations Are Legit

“Commercial support remains a critical element to the success of many medical meetings,” says Marotta. “If you are clear about where program funding is directed, and the meat of the program is solid and has significant educational value, an exciting location shouldn't be a concern.”

Marotta cautions meeting planners to keep a strict line between the educational program and social and entertainment events surrounding the meeting. Remember that the American Medical Association Ethical Opinion on Gifts to Physicians from Industry limits the value of gifts to $100 per physician, she says. “When receiving commercial support, dinners, social events, and program giveaways should be factored into the equation.”

This does not mean that traditional perks aren't possible, but the funding must be less connected to an individual supporter and completely transparent. In other words, organizers can collect funds from a variety of pharma firms under the premise of an unrestricted educational grant. Benefits such as free admission, lunches, or receptions can be covered by these funds, provided that they are not attributed to any one individual company. Once an individual company is highlighted, the $100 gift per physician rule kicks in.

Docs Still Wanna Have Fun

Remember, doctors still want the opportunity to combine a family vacation with attendance at valuable meetings, and many planners feel that it is still ideal to choose a family-friendly venue. The difference is that pharmaceutical companies can no longer pay for family programs or other perks.

A useful tactic is to shift the focus of your marketing messages away from information about ski trips or beach parties, and focus on great speakers, solid program content, and ACCME regulation compliance. This will keep you in the good graces of regulators.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't market your venue — just take a more subtle approach. Include cultural notes in your meeting programs — but focus on educational aspects of the local environment. Talk up local museums, art galleries, and architecture. Highlight your connection with the local tourism bureau and note that you have staff available to facilitate family programs (even if the programs aren't paid for, this service is still very valuable to meeting attendees).

You can convey the location messages through visuals, not words. Include a picture of the beautiful beach near the convention center on your advertisements, posters, flyers, and direct mail pieces as a subtle reminder that your meeting will be both educational and enjoyable. The words may focus on core content, but your attendees will read between the lines.

Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group, a global medical communications consulting agency in Newton, Mass. Contact her at For more of her columns, visit