They must handle logistics as well as track, collect and report all forms of payments and “transfer of value,” including gifts, speaking fees, taxes and gratuities, involving doctors, researchers and other Health Care Professional (HCP) attendees.
They must report the data, including attendee credentials and demographic information, to client companies for reporting to regulatory authorities. They must comprehend and keep up with complex and constantly changing laws, rules and regulations governing HCP attendees. They must negotiate with hotels to surmount the combined challenges of a seller’s market for hotels; caps on F&B and guest room spending; limits on using luxury properties; and notoriously short meeting lead times in the pharmaceutical industry.
The obstacles will increase as the healthcare industry, the world’s largest employer, continues rapid growth, increasing demand for medical meetings. Planning medical meetings has so many obstacles that even veteran healthcare industry planners trip up.
“Another mistake some planners make is assuming that all companies’ business practices are the same. Be aware that there is an element of interpretation when it comes to some compliance issues. Practices may vary from company to company.” Amber Heintz
According to Jacqueline Beaulieu, HMCC, director of strategic marketing and client engagement with Poretta & Orr Inc., an event, exhibit and strategic marketing company, “One of the biggest mistake planners make is not being prepared and sufficiently trained. One way to address this to have a foundation of information and I think the HMCC course “Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate” that Meeting Professionals International offers is a must-have first step for anyone that is a medical or healthcare meeting planner,” Beaulieu says. “Many pharma companies are including in their contracts a prerequisite for planners to have the HMCC designation,” Beaulieu adds. Also, the Events Industry Council offers the CMP-HC certification.
In addition to obtaining training, planners must keep a keen eye on changes in regulations governing pharmaceutical meetings. According to Amber Heintz, CMP-HC, HMCC, account director at Bishop-McCann, a meeting, incentive and event company, “Be aware that what was compliant yesterday may not be compliant today, so stay plugged into resources that keep you up-to-date.”
“Another mistake some planners make is assuming that all companies’ business practices are the same,” Heintz says. “Be aware that there is an element of interpretation when it comes to some compliance issues. Practices may vary from company to company.”
Indeed, one of planners’ biggest headaches results from the differing rules of the several authorities that govern the compliance and reporting of HCP spending. A key regulatory organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association (PhRMA), limits transfer of value to physician attendees to $100 at HCP-facing meetings.
Other regulatory sources include the Advanced Technology Association Code of ethics; the U.S. Open Payments Laws, part of the Affordable Care Act, which allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to levy financial penalties for incomplete, late or inaccurate reporting; and the Sunshine Act, which requires public reporting of payments to doctors and hospitals. In addition, each U.S. state and foreign country have their own rules as do medical industry organizations within every nation.
According to Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC, president and CEO, Medmeetings IQ LLC, “There are 88 countries with some type of healthcare compliance-required reporting. Every country does it differently and every company does it differently.” Keeping up with all the regulations can make a planner’s head spin. No wonder medical meeting planners sometimes make mistakes.
Here are some common missteps, according to experienced pharmaceutical meeting planners.
Schaumann says a key error is not checking changes throughout the planning and meeting process that can change transfer of value. “Changes occur in registration, airfare, hotel etc. that may exceed the required limitations on transfer of value and this should be monitored throughout the planning process,” Schaumann says.
Waiting until the end to compile HCPs’ spending data is a big no-no. “Constantly monitor changes before, during and after meetings to catch potential infractions,” Schaumann says. “Know the compliance rules of companies, countries, and/or clients.”
Laura Konwinski, senior director, global compliance, BCD Meetings and Events, agrees. “Records should be checked frequently, especially when it comes to attendance verification and meal function participation,” Konwinski advises. “Incomplete or inaccurate documents can cause a lot of problems down the road.”
Heintz offers the following advice to help them HCP reporting process go smoothly. “Automating the process assists will avoid mistakes,” Heintz says. “Advising HCP attendees before the meeting what will be reported allows them to decide if this is something they want to participate in. Additionally, advise your vendors (venue, transportation, etc.) and internal teams at the beginning of the planning process what information you will need to collect.”
Schaumann, suggests taking the following steps before and during meetings to assure accurate collection of spending data.
Make sure all the pre-planning that includes budgets and compliance regulations are not changed by on-site planners or sales reps.
Pay attention to where HCPs are primarily licensed. This will affect what the limitations will be on F&B, hotel rates, gifts, etc.
Check international rules and regulations that foreign attendees must follow.
Determine if the state where the meeting is held has its own Open Payment regulations that differs from the U.S. Open Payment rules.
Track onsite anything that is perceived as a possible rule violations. Have a process in place to record the incident, time, parties involved and possible solutions.
Myriad laws on HCP spending is one of several issues that often make finding the right hotel a struggle. Planners must overcome the combined challenges of a seller’s market for hotels; limits on spending, room rates and using luxury properties; and lead times typically shorter than those for other types of meetings. Good communication with hotels from the start is crucial due to the complexity of medical meetings.
Says Beaulieu, “Yes, it is a seller’s market and some healthcare business is not as attractive as it once was to some properties.” Beaulieu’s advice: “Be up front from the start about the potential of short lead times. Have a plan to address it with the hotel,” she says. “One thing that could be considered is a multiple meetings deal. This could make it a bit more palatable for the hotel.”
According to Schaumann, upon first contacting a property the first question planners should ask is, “Do you have experience with medical meetings? If not, keep moving up the chain until you find the right person in the hotel to work with. If a property or venue does not have an experienced medical meeting contact, it would be advisable to choose another property,” Schaumann says. “This is hard to do but working with a hotel that does not understand the complexities of medical meetings will make the process harder.”
Many properties are essentially off limits to medical meetings for two reasons: The properties are genuinely luxury properties with room and F&B rates that make it impossible or difficult to meet spending limits and caps. Or the properties only appear to be swanky and planners and stakeholders believe it might create the impression of excessive spending. The latter reason alone often causes planners to avoid a property.
According to Schaumann “It’s rather sad that some hotels and venues are overlooked because of the ‘business appropriateness’ of the properties. Resorts, gaming destinations and four- or five-star hotels, cruise ships, etc. work hard to overcome the stigma of perceptions.”
But it is getting somewhat easier for planners to deal with the perception issue.
“It has become somewhat better as medical companies realize that HCPs need to be engaged and there are ways that these venues can accommodate their budgets and preferred locations,” Schaumann says. “Planners should at least explore their options as many properties can show they are not ostentatious.”
Beaulieu advises planners not to categorically rule out luxury or luxurious-looking properties altogether. “Paying particular attention to how a property is marketed to attendees could make a difference,” Beaulieu says. “A hotel that is prohibited by one medical company may not be prohibited by all.”
Even after narrowing down choices, it can be unusually difficult to negotiate a contract due to the buyer’s market and complex needs of medical meetings. As result, planners of pharmaceutical meetings may face more rejection from hotels than their peers. “Planners need to understand that hotels may say ‘no’ to your business,” Schaumann says. “This should not be taken personally. Sometimes, with all the specialized requirements of F&B caps, room caps, non-disclosure agreements, short time turnarounds and space usage, it could be a loss for the property. Many hotels do everything possible to meet the needs but realize they can’t lose money.”
One approach all planners should take to tough negotiations is to try to create a financial win-win for both parties. However, that’s more difficult with medical meetings.
Heintz offers the following negotiation advice. “Be up front on your spending caps so the hotel knows what they are agreeing to and why the food and beverage minimum may or may not be an issue for you,” Heintz says. “If the room rate is an issue, be up front about it or choose a non-peak time of the week or year. Since lead times are getting shorter and shorter, know what you are looking for and only include hotels that fit this expectation,” Heintz says. “Be specific about what you need and what you are open to. Ask for concessions that will actually make a difference to the specific program without simply providing a general laundry list.” Finally, Heintz says, “Ask would I want my business? Is what I am asking for mutually beneficial?”
Properties that understand the complex needs of pharmaceutical meetings make a planner’s job much easier. “Such hotels are truly invaluable to the overall success of pharma meetings,” Heintz says. “They understand what is being asked of us and work side-by-side to find a solution that works for all. It saves time in trying to explain why we need the amount of space we do, why we need to stay within a certain spending restriction for F&B, and that understanding is everything.” Hotels that know little about how medical meetings function can contribute to compliance issues.
According to Beaulieu, “If hotels don’t understand the healthcare meeting planner’s world, it could cause problems down the line from understanding menu caps to how a company’s bill is broken out. Lacking understanding of the implications of not following a company’s requirements could cause costly difficulties such as fines.”
But it’s not easy for planners to find and establish good long-term working relationships with hotels knowledgeable about medical meetings. According to Danielle MacFarlane, CMP, director, meetings solutions with BCD Meetings & Events, “Finding these partners can be a challenge, but it’s worth the time to educate them to make future bookings easier.”
But it is getting easier to find knowledgeable hotels.
“Some hotel salespeople attend pharma-specific trade shows, and some national hotel sales contacts are great resources,” MacFarlane says. “Several hotel brands align their national sales offices by vertical markets including medical meeting markets and are knowledgeable about their assigned markets.”
According to Schaumann, “Many hotels are taking training and receiving their HMCCs to better prepare them for medical meetings. There are several hotel chains that offer HMCC training several times a year.”
Hotels are ramping up training because they want larger shares of the surging medical meetings market. According to Schaumann, “It is projected there will be over one million medical meetings within the U.S. this year. Hotels know that they need to capture this audience and be prepared to understand compliance and the terminologies that their medical client prospects will use.”
Properties must also understand the many medical-meeting rules that apply to F&B, an area that Schaumann says remains tough for hotels and planners to navigate. “When I wrote my first edition of ‘Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance” in 2013, food and beverage was the No. 1 challenge in planning medical/life science meetings,” Schaumann says. “As I write the fifth edition of the book now, it is still the No. 1 challenge in healthcare compliance reporting.”
Planners offer the following advice on how to plan meals that comply with medical-meeting regulations.
Keep in mind that spending caps don’t necessarily mean boring, tasteless food and beverage. “It simply means creative planning,” Heintz says. “Meal planning should be a partnership with the hotel chefs to ensure your program can benefit from their expertise in this important area.” Consult with a hotel’s chef after finding out what other groups are meeting on the property. “What are they offering?” Heintz says. “Could there be cost savings if menus are similar and can the chef buy in bulk?”
Schaumann agrees. “If anyone can manipulate the menu and work with pricing caps while being creative, it is the chef,” she says. “Ask the chef what is being served to other meeting groups within the hotel and, if possible, use the same menus. This could help with spending.”
There are several developments, Schaumann adds, that are making it somewhat easier to comply with meal spending caps. “Some companies set their own food cap limitations internally and share them with their HCPs (in the registration form) what they will be spending on meals,” Schaumann says. “They offer options where particular HCPs may exceed the internal limitations.”
“The HCP can then pay the difference on their own or the company will offer vouchers for the HCP to use at a food outlet within the hotel,” Schaumann says. “Or a medical sales rep may take the HCP to an appropriate restaurant.” Although assuring compliance with meal caps can be frustrating, Schaumann advises planners to avoid bending basic rules to comply.
“I would caution planners not to ask the hotel, restaurant or venue to upgrade their menus by having them charge a fee such as space rental when there isn’t a fee,” Schaumann says. “Any time you move monies you are creating a risk,” Schaumann continues. “Venues put the actual spend into the appropriate buckets (such as catering) once your program is over. They won’t lie about how money was spent. An audit would find that the actual spend on F&B was not accurate as reported. This could be construed as a violation (of spending caps).”
Expect the number of pharmaceutical meetings to rise due to the demand. Most HCPs receive an average of 16 event invitations a year but attend about eight, according to the report by American Express Meetings & Events titled, “In-Depth Look at Medical Meeting Content: What Drives HCPs to Attend, Engage and Learn.” Also expect rules and regulations governing HCP spending to become more numerous and complex. As a result, planners will need to work even harder to keep up with the growth in meetings and changes in regulations.
Schaumann’s advice to planners is: “Stay educated and know the best resources. Keeping current with changing laws and regulations is daunting.” C&IT