Alliance meeting day 3: Are speakers bureaus still viable?

I missed some of the beginning stuff in this session, like the definition of speakers bureau and the regulations that affect speakers bureaus (I came in just as Debra Gist, consultant, was finishing up on the regs part and was recommending that people check out my article on the Phase II rules of the Stark Law—thanks, Deb!) . I'll post more when the presenters e-mail those slides to me. Here's the part I caught.

Maureen Doyle-Scharff, Abbott Laboratories, outlined some of the realities pharma companies are dealing with that impact their speakers bureaus:

* Budgets are being cut across the board, not just for CME but everywhere.

* The firewalls between marketing and medical affairs can create confusion when it comes to key opinion leader services.

* Pharma is trending away from "road shows" (i.e., visiting professor programs).

* Investment in single, standalone events is viewed as less risky.

* Some companies are beginning to differentiate between promotinal and independent speakers.

"It's turning into a 'read our minds' situation," she said. "We don't want to have anything to do with speaker selection. Don't ask us."

The good news, she said, is that we all are beginning to recognize that faculty need training on what is and is not appropriate. In fact, industry is "champing at the bit for this"—"this" being a formalized training program that will walk faculty through what they can do in each setting. She said that one component of a training program that should be rolled out later this year (I'm not sure who, exactly, is developing it, but from what she said, it sounds like a cooperative effort between industry and some of the major players on the CME side), will be a certification that the faculty member has gone through the training and has agreed to follow the rules.

Every major pharma company that was at the table plans to rquire any individual who serves as faculty to go through this training, she said. "Many of the CME providers also said they won't use faculty who haven't gone through this training. It could come down to pharma companies not being willing to support any activity whose faculty haven't gone through this training."

Nathalie Harden, with Health Science Communications Health Science Center for CME, then spoke about how to partner effectively in joint or co-sponsorships in today's "overly regulated environment." Why partner? "We need to to survive. We're all vying for the same funds. Partners can request grants together and share the pot." Partnering also can help match one company's strengths with another's weaknesses.

The biggest obstacles, she said, were ineffective early communication, misunderstandings about what roles each partner will play, and a lack of documentation to cement the deal. She recommended talking with partners early and often, exchanging written policies, and creating realistic timelines that meet each partner's needs. Know who's in charge of what, and whose resources are best suited for each aspect. Create a process for resolving issues that come up, and don't rely on verbal agreements. Have each provider sign a collaborative agreement and share it among all the stakeholders.

The Q&A mostly revolved around the faculty training program Doyle-Scharff talked about. I asked if there would be any consequences for not living up to the agreement to live by what they learn, and there aren't any built into the program itself. But Doyle-Scharff said that CME providers hopefully wouldn't use faculty who haven't gone through the training, or who violate what they learned. Mark Schaffer, EdM, Thomson Professional Postgraduate Services, also a presenter, said that the purpose really is to educate the faculty, because a lot of them really don't understand the difference between promotional and educational events. He believes that they want to behave correctly, and will once they understand where the lines are drawn.

The topic of whether companies are cutting back on promotional meetings also came up. Schaffer said that physicians tend to like certified education better than promotional meetings, and that companies are cutting back on promotional meetings because they're recognizing that fact. Doyle-Scharff said that some companies are in fact cutting back on promotional meetings, something that doesn't break her heart. "I believe educational meetings have more value than a commercial. But doctors do like the promotional meetings." Another pharma person in the audience pointed out that the amount spent on promotional versus educational events really depends on where a specific product is in its life cycle. If it's close to being launched or newly launched, the budget will increase for promotional events, and decrease over time.

Van Harrison, who was in the audience, piped up with a question about policies on paying for training for educational speakers. Do they get honoraria? Schaffer replied that his company doesn't pay for them to attend, but it does pay their airfare and living expenses, just not lavishly, so it's a budget-neutral thing for them to attend.

There also was some back-and-forth about the value of national versus local speakers. Is it really worth it to bring in a big name, big money speaker to do a hit-and-run lecture, or is it better to rely on local experts who are better known to the audience and will be around to answer questions after the event is over? Schaeffer pointed out the obvious: It depends on your audience.

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