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A Medical-Meetings Maven Talks Planner Pain Points

Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, HMCC, discusses the PhRMA shakeup, the Sunshine Act, patient participation in meetings, and meal-cap workarounds.

The pharmaceutical and medical-device meetings niche never stands still, but 2024 is shaping up to be even more restless than usual.

For example, on the heels of losing several major pharma-company members, industry trade group PhRMA was dealt another blow on February 12, when a federal court tossed out its lawsuit challenging Medicare drug negotiations with the federal government. Given its waning influence, will PhRMA’s voluntary regulations for meetings that host healthcare professionals still be followed by pharma companies that are no longer members?

That’s just one intriguing question MeetingsNet presented recently to Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, HMCC, president of Schaumann Consulting Group and a highly regarded instructor in the medical-meetings field. Her book Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance is now in its fifth edition; it is a reference manual for the Healthcare Meetings Compliance Certificate offered by Meeting Professionals International and the CMP-HC designation offered by the Events Industry Council.

In 2023, she released another book, How to Plan Medical Meetings and Events, in collaboration with event-management firm Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, to further assist those enrolled in formal programs but also for the entire community of medical-event planners. Specifically, “the Medical Meeting Professional Certificate [launched in 2023] and the how-to book were designed for the influx of new planners into the industry,” she notes. “We are seeing that these planners possess less experience in general, and limited knowledge on medical-meeting nuances and compliance oversight in particular.”

This year, Schaumann will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the HMCC that she helped to create, including at the Pharma Forum conference aimed at pharma and medical-device planners, which takes place from March 24 to 27 in Tampa, Fla.

Schaumann took some time to answer questions about a few pressing issues for medical-meeting planners in 2024.

MeetingsNet: For companies that have left PhRMA, do you expect an impact on their adherence to PhRMA compliance rules in their meetings?

Schaumann: Only members of PhRMA are required to adhere to that organization’s code. But many companies have instituted PhRMA’s codes deeply into their internal processes, so that might not change even if a company leaves the group.

Outside of PhRMA, all pharma companies still must adhere to the U.S. Open Payments law and, more importantly, international compliance regulations which set specific rules and limitations on meal functions, entertainment, travel, hotel, and other elements related to HCP participation.

I do not foresee that more companies leaving PhRMA will have much of an impact on [the experience around] HCP attendance at company events. But I do think PhRMA needs to pay attention and address why companies are dropping out. Some factors might include corporate priorities and goals that no longer align with those of PhRMA due to changes in company strategy, focus areas, or corporate values. Companies also could have policy disagreements or reputational concerns with the group, or balk at the cost of membership, or simply have strategic shifts such as mergers, acquisitions, or reorganizations that could cause them to reevaluate their PhRMA participation.

MeetingsNet: Are you seeing more patient testimonials in pharma and medical-device meetings lately? And what would you say is the effect of having patients speak at events with HCPs in attendance?

Schaumann: We definitely see patients attending or speaking at medical meetings more often, and HCPs certainly seem to embrace it. Incorporating their perspectives promotes a patient-centered approach to healthcare, which offer firsthand accounts of their experiences not just with diseases and treatments, but also with healthcare systems and bureaucracies.

Patient stories help company reps as well as clinicians and researchers better understand the real-world impact of their work, and the challenges and preferences of those living with a condition. This understanding can inform more empathetic and effective care delivery and also inspire researchers to prioritize new questions to address patient needs and perhaps pursue a new avenue of research.

There’s one thing, however, that companies must consider when it comes to patient participation in meetings: the sensitivity of the meeting agenda and what might be discussed in front of patient participants. Confidential product information, pricing, and other elements must be accounted for ahead of time, including patients possibly taking photos or sharing information on social media.

MeetingsNet: Given the inflation-related spike in food-and-beverage product and service costs over the past two years, are planners struggling to stay within meal caps and still provide attendees with meals that are appealing?

Schaumann: Yes, definitely.

MeetingsNet: Do you see planners asking their internal compliance officers for meal-cap exceptions in certain event destinations more often now—and are those requests getting approved more often?

Schaumann: I do think that planners are getting more comfortable going to their compliance directors or attorneys and showing them case scenarios of F&B pricing based on different first- and second-tier destinations.

Other tactics I see planners employing include:

Food stuttering: asking the host venue what other in-house groups are serving and piggybacking on their menus to cut costs.

Keeping things simple, like choosing catering packages with options such as sandwiches, salads, and finger foods instead of elaborate plated meals or buffets.

• Limiting alcoholic beverages by implementing a cash bar or opting for non-alcoholic alternatives such as flavored seltzer, iced tea, or mocktails to reduce costs without sacrificing variety.

• Being transparent with vendors about budget constraints and exploring new possibilities, such as selecting off-peak hours for catering.

• Minimizing food waste by accurately estimating the number of attendees and their dietary preferences in advance. Working closely with the catering team to avoid over-ordering and adjust portion sizes, and then implementing strategies for repurposing leftovers to those in need.

• Encouraging self-service or grab-and-go food options can reduce staffing costs associated with table service or buffet-style setups and minimize food waste by allowing attendees to take only what they need.

• Exploring interesting, less-expensive options such as food trucks, food stations, or food vouchers that offer flexibility and variety at a lower cost than traditional catering services.

• Actively seeking sponsorships or partnerships with food-and-beverage companies, local restaurants, or culinary schools to offset costs or to provide in-kind donations in exchange for branding opportunities or promotional exposure.

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