When Meetings Meet Pharma

27/08/2013 - Reproducido con permiso de The Meeting Professional, 2013. © One+ 2013. Autor: Rowland Stiteler. Traducción: Event Planner Spain

Meeting professionals in the life sciences sector (pharma, medical) have a unique skill set that gives all planners, regardless of niche, a look at what they’ll need to learn to ensure future success.

When Judy Benaroche Johnson, CMP, president and CEO of Rx Worldwide Meetings Inc., was scheduled to speak at the 2012 MPI World Education Conference (WEC) about the challenges and rewards of being a life-sciences-industry meeting planner, she thought her session might attract 20 people.

"The big surprise was that there were 200 people who wanted to hear about this," said Johnson, who has been in the meeting industry for 40 years and exclusively in the medical and pharmaceutical meetings business since she took the reins of her company 18 years ago.

"And these were by no means just med/pharma meeting planners in the audience; they were from across the spectrum of the meeting industry," said Johnson, who also spoke on the topic at the 2013 WEC July 20-23 in Las Vegas. "I think everyone in the meeting industry is aware that there have been new skill sets planners in our segment of the business have had to develop in order to handle the increasing regulatory compliance requirements these days. People are interested in how the regulatory environment we face might impact their businesses going forward."

Planning meetings is now just one part of the task at hand for medical and pharmaceutical planners.

"If fact, we don’t even call meeting planners at our company ‘meeting planners’ anymore," Johnson said. "We call them project managers now, because a meeting for us is not just a meeting, it’s a project, which consists not only of planning the meeting, but all the reporting that goes on after the meeting, all the costing ahead of the meeting—all the cost containment, cost avoidance. …There once was a time when all you did after the meeting was over was send your client the bill. Now the end of the meeting is just the start of a long process of reporting and documenting spend and its effectiveness, in compliance with an ever-growing number of U.S. and international laws, regulations and guidelines."

Planner Mike Brill, managing director of MEDALS LLC, says the most appropriate job description for medical and pharmaceutical meeting planners these days would be "medical paralegals" because of all the laws and regulations they must navigate and comply with in planning and conducting meetings.

"They don’t have to be able to practice law, but they’ve certainly got to understand the applicable laws and there are a lot of them, and it’s not just laws—most of these things are regulations," said Brill, who founded his company last year when he retired after spending 15 years director of global academic and professional affairs for Merck. "But you have to know what the rules are, based on the country you are dealing with—in terms of where your meeting is [taking place] and what countries your attendees are from."

Lisa Keilty, CMP, vice president of pmc2, a company that trains meeting professionals and advises companies involved in life-sciences-industry meetings on how to comply with health care regulations, says the ability to navigate the regulatory environment boils down to one key trait on the part of the meeting planner: resourcefulness.

"Healthcare meeting planners need to really be resourceful, because there are times when one law may trump another or one guideline may be more strict than another that is applicable to what you are doing, especially internationally," said Keilty, who was a meetings team leader with Pfizer before becoming a meetings consultant. "They really need to be resourceful and do their due diligence in the healthcare industry more so than in any other. The skill sets that have really grown in importance in this industry’s meeting planning are financial tracking, accounting, data analysis. Traditionally, meeting planners did not originally perform those roles. They were more executioners, people managers. Now all of the regulations in the healthcare industry have created a new group of required skill sets."

Keilty, like Johnson, is also a frequent speaker at meeting industry conferences and seminars on the topic of life-sciences-industry meeting regulations and what they portend for other industries in the future.

"There is no question that with the growing amount of regulation of the financial services industry, including its meetings, that meeting planners in that sector will find themselves following similar practices and strategies to what are used in the healthcare industry," Keilty said.

Brill points out that in addition to the great detail of how much is spent on each meeting attendee, and specific limits on how much can be spent, there is a further complicating factor—there is more than one set of rules to follow.

"It’s not just U.S. law you are dealing with," he said. "To a large extent, every country has its own laws or regulations in place, and if you are holding a meeting in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, you have to be in compliance with laws and regulations in the home country of each attendee," he said. "And in general, the level of amenities for the attendees has to be in compliance with the attendee from the country with the most stringent controls."

The budget for a medical meeting attendee’s dinner is a thoroughly scrutinized, a limiting factor in lot of different countries’ regulations—with more to come, Brill says. And one effect that this has had is the growing practice of sending attendees to dinner at different restaurants, with different price points, in order to make sure to comply with all countries’ laws.

"Right now in Russia there are no rules restricting how much you can spend on an attendee’s meal," said Brill, incoming director of finance for the MPI New Jersey Chapter. "And Russia has a lot of money these days, and Russian physicians are used to being treated quite well. So if you hold a meeting in New York City, you can send your Russian attendees to the Russian Tea Room for dinner, while you send attendees from more restrictive countries, like France for instance, to some place that is more akin to McDonald’s than it is to the Russian Tea Room."

Brill says a particularly challenging factor is that there is no central website or other repository that is up-to-date on all countries’ regulations involving healthcare industry meetings.

"It becomes almost a full-time job simply trying to find what the rules are so you can comply with them," Brill said.

A key point of clarity with regard to U.S. regulations will come after Aug. 1, when full reporting of health-care industry meetings activities—including very detailed financial reporting—will go into place under the Sunshine Act, part of the so-called "Obamacare" legislation passed into law in 2010.

Rosaelena "Rosie" Ledesma Bernaducci, CMP, congress manager at McVeigh Associates Ltd., says it will then be defined by how the U.S. Justice Department reacts to those reports, in terms of possible fines levied for violations. That will define the "rules of the road" going forward.

Ledesma Bernaducci says the willingness and ability to study sources of information about pharma and medical meetings regulations on a relatively constant basis becomes a hugely important trait for life-sciences-industry meeting professionals.

"You have got to be dedicated to your due diligence on the regulations. If you don’t, you are going to be in a world of trouble, because you are putting clients in a position of serious financial risk," she said. "There is just no such thing as winging it. You have to be in compliance no matter how small the meeting might be, and you have to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research to know what constitutes compliance."

Ledesma Bernaducci says that because of the regulatory environment now, the era in which one can plan medical or pharmaceutical meetings as a sideline is essentially gone. It’s too complicated for anything but the most focused of attention.

"At this point, if you are working in pharma, you have to be valuable to your clients," she said. "If you are not up on all this regulatory compliance, you are just a liability waiting to happen. If you don’t know the Sunshine Act from top to bottom and can’t recite what is and isn’t a violation, at this point, you are in trouble."

Many planners, including Ledesma Bernaducci, Keilty, Johnson and others who make life-sciences-industry meeting regulations their life’s work say that the upside of the new regulations is that there is a sense of professional satisfaction just from being able to successfully comply with them.

"I kind of like the challenge of all this because for myself, I know that I do my due diligence," she said. "When I am putting together a meeting, I’ve got perhaps five pieces and I have to know where they fit into the various compliance regulations. That’s the challenge of it all, and there is a feeling of reward when you meet that challenge."

Johnson says she finds the value of all this regulatory compliance to be twofold.

"For one thing, there is the traditional benefit of being part of this exciting process of bringing new drugs to market that will save people’s lives or make them better," she said. "That’s been the case in our industry segment all along."

There is also the huge benefit to be reaped by planners by documenting spend.

"Even though some of this is so strict and difficult, I think to really capture and document the data, and to say, for instance ‘Yes we spent $200,000 but here’s how everybody’s going to benefit from it,’ that becomes very empowering," Johnson said. "It’s certainly a way to show your value to your stakeholders. And start tracking and documenting your spend; then you can really leverage the spend. Because of that, a lot of other industries can take away great benefits from what Pharma is doing." One+

News - Meeting Professionals International (MPI)

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