Task Force Meeting: Grants session

A breakout session on the granting process, held at the National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration conference in Baltimore, highlighted the differences—and similarities—between different pharma companies.

Led by three pharmaceutical company representatives involved in the CME end of things, it addressed burning questions such as: Are commercial supporters prequalifying providers? It seems that it varies by company. One person said that the more developed the medical education department is, the more likely it is that they may prequalify. Some have forms providers need to fill out that detail information about accreditation status, the percentage of income derived from pharma, and if firewalls between education and promotion are in place, just to determine if it makes sense for the company to pursue working with that organization.

Industry competence in continuing professional development is another barrier, as is some companies' new compliance policies that make it too difficult for some providers to work with those companies. Also, funding in general is on the wane, they said, so some programs that have a history of getting a grant may not make the cut anymore.

They also stressed that they expect to do some monitoring of the CME activities they support, so don't be surprised if someone from the company shows up at your activity. And that someone may be a sales rep, just because that's the only person the company has in the area at that point in time. They stressed that a rep in a monitoring role knows not to participate in any way; they would just be there to observe and answer questions the company might have after the activity.

While the companies represented tend to average 30 days or so to turn around a grant proposal, send it in as early as you can, they said. Complex proposals can be held up if they have to be run through legal, and any changes in the letter of agreement will at best delay approval, and could get it rejected.

They also stressed the importance of knowing where in the life cycle a company's products are, because if the product is going off patent, that will affect the amount of commercial support available in that area.

The one thing I've heard provider after provider long to know—the reason why a proposal got rejected—just ain't going to happen, according to these folks. "I know it's frustrating for you, and for us, but legal tells us we just can't do it," said one panelist. On the pharma side, there's also frustration about the financial reconciliation efforts they receive, which currently amounts to boxes of receipts in some cases. If the company sends out a form or budget schedule sheet, just fill that out and hold onto the receipts, but have them ready in case the company requests them later.

One audience member pointed out that some of the physicians they work with feel their request will get more attention if it comes from a clinical department rather than the CME office. "Pharma may mistake who's in charge and deal with someone other than the CME office." While that can still happen when dealing with companies that make decisions based on relationships, at least some companies are actually giving preference to requests that come from the CME office, rather than a clinical department.

Partial funding also came up as a gray area for some in the audience. Why and how does a company determine to fund only part of a proposal? One panelist said that often it's because the money just isn't there to fund the full grant amount requested. Some companies do require that the provider return the money if they don't secure the rest of the support they need for that activity.

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