Life sciences meeting planners tend to have the uncanny ability to not just turn on a dime, but also to make that dime buy $1 worth of food and beverage so they can stay within their all-too-meager corporate-mandated meal cap. And while those corporate meal caps are notoriously resistant to change, they’re about the only thing that isn’t in constant upheaval for corporate and third-party life sciences meeting planners.
This is especially true for those who plan meetings for healthcare professionals, and even more for those who plan international HCP meetings, which fall under a dizzying array of codes, rules, laws, and regulations that vary country by country, all of which are continually being updated.
Spare change? More like change to spare.
Which is why global compliance challenges—and how to navigate through them to provide the most productive experience possible for HCPs—was a white-hot topic at this year’s Pharma Forum, held March 25–28 in Philadelphia and co-organized by MeetingsNet and CBI.
The most important thing, said Monica Dickenson, CMP, SMMC, Pharma Forum 2018 co-chair and head of global meetings and events with Shire Pharmaceutical, is to adapt a change-friendly mindset. Those who do know how to face change head-on develop an action plan, and build the team they need to stay ahead of the ever-moving curve. As Dickenson said during a session on change management, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Which leads us to…
Tip #1: Compliance Is Your Best Friend.
“Some planners may not fully understand the importance of collaboration with the compliance office, but your compliance officer is going to be your number one resource,” said Jill Kueser, senior manager, scientific meetings, Celgene.* In fact, she had the audience at her session repeat this mantra until it sank in: “In the healthcare sector, your company’s global and regional compliance liaisons are your best friends in ensuring compliant HCP meetings.”
That’s because it’s a complicated world when it comes to country-specific rules around transfers of value between life sciences companies and HCPs. Some countries require meeting organizers to report the cost of meals they provide to HCPs, others don’t, even if they do have meal caps. Some countries provide a dollar amount for what they consider to be “reasonable” hotel accommodations, others don’t.
It’s confusing, to say the least.
And it keeps changing. For example, in January, the MedTech Europe Code of Ethical Business Practice went into effect, disallowing medical device companies from directly sponsoring HCPs
to attend third-party events and putting the burden of reporting educational grants onto healthcare organizations. France’s amendment to broaden the scope of its anti-gift law goes into force in July, and the first disclosures of transfers of value to HCPs under Belgium’s Sunshine Act are due this year.
“While meeting managers don’t have to memorize every country’s regulations [governing transfers of value between life sciences companies and HCPs],” said Kueser, “planners must know that these regulations exist and vary widely, and therefore planners must have reliable resources in ensuring compliance for all HCP engagements.”
Even if you could memorize and constantly update yourself on the various country regulations, you still have to understand how your company—or your client, in the case of third-party planners—interprets those rules. For example, some hotels are getting around the “no five-star rating” rule by opting out of being rated—so some companies are going to sites such as TripAdvisor to see how customers describe them. One person said her company counts how many times the word “luxury” is mentioned on the hotel website to determine whether it’s appropriate. If breakfast is included in the room rate, as is common in Europe, how does the company want that teased out when it comes to reporting meals?
The only way to know for sure is to ask your compliance officer. Sometimes compliance departments can provide guidance in the form of an Excel spreadsheet or, better yet, a continually updated database of country-specific rules. One person at a compliance session shared that her company’s all-country-requirements document is 300 pages and counting.
Above all, keep your attitude toward compliance positive, said Jovana Paredes, compliance expert, GCO (Global Conference Organisers). “Compliance is there to help you navigate the requirements, not hinder your planning,” said Paredes.
Tip #2: Be Proactive
The various country rules are complicated—some countries apply a hosting country principle (following the rules of the event’s hosting country code), while others have rules that “travel with the HCP” so it doesn’t matter where the meeting takes place. Study up on your host country’s rules, and those of your attending HCPs’ home countries, at the very beginning of the planning process.
And third parties need to ask for training, guidance, and access to corporate policies early on, said Marlize Eckert, head of compliance solutions, GCO (Global Conference Organisers), during a compliance session. “If you receive restrictions during the contracting stage, it’s way too late.”
She also said that it is important to find a designated backup person who can answer after-hours compliance questions—such as what to do about an unanticipated HCP wanting to join a dinner—long before a potentially noncompliant situation arises.
It also helps to develop a compliance action plan that documents all the steps you need to take ahead of time. This will help to ensure you don’t miss any important waypoints, and will help you keep your team informed and on target, said Paredes. It should include contacts for last-minute, onsite compliance questions as well.
Tip #3: Communicate the “Why”
“This sounds simple in theory, but it’s so important,” said Paredes. Let your vendors know the reasoning behind the restrictions—it may be second nature to you, but a hotelier or restaurant staffer may have no clue why certain things aren’t allowed to happen at HCP events. “This will reduce the likelihood of noncompliance. A hotel is less likely to give your HCP an upgrade to a suite or a bottle of wine in their room when they understand why they can’t,” she added.
*Disclaimer: The thoughts, views and opinions expressed by Jill Kueser within this article, either explicit or implicit, are her own. They are not reflective of the perspectives represented by her employer, Celgene Corporation.