The good news is that none of the 10 cities contacted for this article are expecting the January 2013 implementation of the federal Sunshine Act —which institutes new rules for tracking and reporting pharmaceutical company spend on healthcare providers for conferences, research, and other collaborative efforts—to have a chilling effect on the number of medical meetings coming to their destinations. While a few expressed some reserve, essentially saying that, since the legislation still could evolve, it’s too early to tell if it will have an impact on their medical meetings, others agreed with Elliott L. Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination D.C., the destination marketing organization for Washington, D.C. “We are not seeing any impact with medical associations and meeting planners in regards to the Sunshine Act,” Ferguson says. “Since we are not experiencing any issues related to the Sunshine Act, it’s likely that these issues are being addressed internally by the organizations in their government/public policy divisions.”
This is most likely the case because, while the Sunshine Act is new, the idea of increased transparency and stripped-down events has become a part of most medical meetings’ DNA since the voluntary Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals first went into effect in 2002. (It was updated in 2009.) Most cities that attract a good proportion of their meetings business from the life sciences sector know this, and have marketed themselves accordingly. For example, Bonnie Grant, executive director for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Life Sciences Congress, says, “Our region’s large life sciences cluster helps build audiences and enhance meeting content, making it attractive and compliant for planners, attendees, exhibitors, and presenters.” This, along with its location within a day’s drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population and accommodation and dining options at many price points, “make it easy to be accountable in keeping costs reasonable.” Almost half of the meetings and conventions held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Center City hotels are related to the life sciences, she notes.
Learning from the Past
Massachusetts has had more preparation than most states in dealing with any potential fallout from the act. In 2008, it adopted its own version of the Sunshine law, the state Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct , which despite recent revisions to ease the ban  on providing meals for HCPs at restaurants and to allow device companies to provide training outside of hospitals, remains among the most restrictive state laws in the U.S. Patrick Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the lesson Boston learned from its experience with the state law is to watch out for the potential unintended consequences. With up to 35 percent of meetings in Boston and Cambridge related medical/life sciences due to the prevalence of medical schools, research facilities, and pharmaceutical companies in the area, the bureau was concerned that the state’s attempt to keep collaborations between commercial entities and HCPs ethical might end up costing it some important meeting business, particularly the smaller meetings that historically took place at least partially in restaurants or other special-event venues.
To keep that from happening after the state law passed, the bureau brought on board a law firm to help develop a guide to what was and wasn’t allowable under the law, and to answer any questions meeting organizers looking to bring their meetings to the Greater Boston area might have. The bureau also began a series of webinars to take planners and exhibitors through the Massachusetts law, and met with the exhibitor councils of some of its larger life sciences clients. While the city did lose a few medical meetings—“and even one or two is too many,” says Moscaritolo—the end result was much better than expected.
The plan now is to update the information the CVB provides to include changes in the state law and, if necessary, provide similar guidance for the new federal law. Depending on whether or not the federal law trumps the state law, Moscaritolo says the Sunshine Act may actually help his city by leveling the playing field. As for whether it might negatively affect the number of HCPs willing to attend meetings , he says, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Cleveland Medical Mart  & Convention Center, which also is not forecasting an impact on the number of medical meetings it hosts, also is taking a wait-and-see stance. Tony Prusak, senior sales director for the center, says, “Physicians and teaching hospitals that are aware of the Sunshine Act and its reporting provisions may opt out from attending meetings, as they are concerned over erroneous reporting.” However, he adds, “it may be too soon to accurately predict this impact. A recent survey conducted by MMIS, a New Hampshire–based company that provides compliance software to the healthcare industry, found that nearly half of the 500 compliance officers and physicians surveyed had not heard of the Sunshine Act and were not familiar with its reporting provisions.”
Like other destinations and venues, the Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center is also making sure its team is asking the right questions so the process can be as seamless as possible for medical meeting planners.
“We need to understand their sourcing priorities, ensure that we’re aware of the cost thresholds for meals, understand the PhRMA  and AdvaMed  codes, and most important, we need to work with the meeting planner to produce the final invoice and folio backups in a timely and proper format to meet the Sunshine Act and state reporting regulations,” says Prusak. It’s also important to review the needs of possible international attendees and their countries’ laws as well as understand the nuances of each organization’s requirements, such as no upgrades for healthcare professionals, he adds. “We also need to be aware of the timelines and hurdles that medical meeting planners are faced with throughout the entire planning and execution process.”
To keep up to date, both CMMCC and Positively Cleveland are members of the International Medical Meeting Planners Association  and use the expertise and services of a specialist in the Sunshine Act.
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