The health care meetings landscape is changing at a staggering pace. Privacy issues, compliance requirements and payment transparency regulations grow increasingly complex to manage. Some regulations conflict with others and many differ from country to country, or state to state. Planners whose meetings include an international audience must know not only the regulations of the place in which the meeting is set, but those in the destinations from which attendees come.
All of this makes planners with a certification in health care meeting management highly valuable. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them.
“What’s critical,” says Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC, president of Schaumann Consulting Group LLC “ is the lack of trained professionals. With more than 1 million medical meetings on tap for 2019 in the U.S. alone, we’re experiencing a crisis in the number of trained medical meeting planners.”
Jacqueline Beaulieu, HMCC, MPI MD Advisory Board member and director of strategic marketing and client engagement with Poretta & Orr, a full-service experiential exhibit, event and strategic marketing agency. She agrees that qualified planners are in short supply. “It’s a challenge for companies looking for trained, experienced medical meeting planners.”
On the other hand, she points out, planners “who invest in the effort to elevate their stature in this field will rise to the top.”
“It’s a challenge for companies looking for trained, experienced medical meeting planners.”
That should be a call to action for planners who want to gain a competitive advantage. With the number of health care meetings on the rise worldwide and the complexity increasing beyond the skill set of those without specialty certification, qualified planners will be in high demand well into the future.
There are additional challenges in medical meetings today. Schaumann, author of “Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance,” now in its fifth edition, leads a consulting group, that helps companies improve their processes and bottom-line performance in medical-meeting compliance and transparency reporting. She lists four problem areas:
“Frequent changing of codes, including: state and city ordinances, changes made on-site once the meeting has been planned, food and beverage caps for health care professionals (HCPs) and privacy issues are all major challenges,” she says.
She thinks other issues will factor in as well. “Medical meeting professionals will continue to see challenges because of the effect of politics and reactions to the opioid epidemic. The new SUPPORT Act will impact Open Payments by expanding the definition of a covered recipient, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will expand to other states and countries, more countries will add compliance and transparency regulations and so on.”
Beaulieu points to increasing globalization. “As companies and organizations continue to look for business growth opportunities, locations outside of the U.S. will be considered more often. So learning how best to conduct business globally will be a vital component to what medical meeting planners will need in their arsenal of skills,” she says.
That includes learning cultural differences in addition to differing compliance rules. Given that some 90 countries currently require compliance rules, Beaulieu adds, “Staying up-to-date and understanding the intricacies and impact they have on a meeting is critical. But global and federal regulations may be easier to stay on top of than state and city codes, which are also continually in flux.”
Jocelyne Côté, director, strategy and business development, the Americas at American Express Global Business Travel, points out several issues, including “balancing corporate requirements with country requirements for meals and accommodations.”
These issues, she says, impact not only planners, but the quality of the meeting experience. “It’s difficult to create a unique experience with limited spend amounts. And the focus on compliance and regulations takes away from a planner’s time to plan the meeting. Additionally, reporting requirements differ by country, creating data-entry errors and missing or incomplete information. Information can also be inconsistent if it’s collected in multiple different ways, such as manual or tech platform, especially when there’s no standardized approach.”
Dominic Bemrose, business development director at UK-based The Turner Agency, a global health care agency, says issues such as sustainability practices are the same as in any industry. But he points to “stronger demand for digital interaction that is health care compliant, along with wellness, to be incorporated into meeting agendas, and timely and accurate Transfer of Value (TOV) reporting” as challenges facing planners of medical meetings.
“Balancing tight budgets and increased pressures on resourcing as a result of ever shorter project lead times with the well-being and happiness of our team is a challenge facing our agency and many pharma event agencies,” he says. “Effective forward planning and management of skills and resources is crucial to ensure we effectively balance the needs of our clients with those of our dedicated and talented teams.”
On the positive side, he notes, as regulations regarding reporting and compliance become routine, they’re less of a challenge.
Some issues have more potential solutions than others, such as the cost of meals provided for HCPs at meetings. Allowances are not the same for every attendee, yet planners, hosts, restaurants and hotels must provide a way to meet them for every attendee. One way to decrease complexity is to set meeting caps at the lowest amount. If one physician’s home region allows $25 per day, but another’s allows $35, the cap should be set at $25 for all rather than trying to offer different meals or plans for different attendees.
Bemrose says the same strategy exists in Europe. “We ask our client/stakeholder the countries where the delegates are coming from and work with the strictest code. We also work with our clients to ensure that this matches with their own corporate policy. In some cases, the client’s policy is stricter than the regional regulations.”
In addition to differences from country to country and state to state, Beaulieu echoes Bemrose in noting that companies have their own internal requirements. “Planners often make the mistake of assuming that all company business practices are the same. Planners should be aware that there’s an element of interpretation when it comes to some compliance issues, so practices may vary from company to company.”
Likewise, one hotel, restaurant or destination that’s off limits for one company isn’t necessarily off limits for another. Communication is key. “Let your attendees know how much your company will be paying for meals,” Schaumann advises. “Give HCPs the opportunity to pay the difference on their own, give them food vouchers to use within the hotel or venue or have a sales rep take the HCP out to a meal. And work with chefs from the start. If anyone can creatively design budget menus, it’s the chef.”
Fortunately, more hotel staff are taking training to better understand medical-meeting compliance. With so many medical meetings projected in the U.S. this year and 250,000 in the U.K., “Hotels want the business,” Schaumann says. “I always say the first question to ask your hotel or venue rep should be, ‘Do you have experience with medical meetings?’ If there’s no experience or no staff member with a Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC), it might behoove a planner to move to another property. It definitely should affect site selection for medical meeting professionals.”
Côté says meal caps help ensure consistent and fair meeting practices, particularly in meetings with multiple meals in a day. “Caps should be reviewed on an annual basis to assess fair market value. To accommodate tight meal caps,” she suggests, “include the meal-cap thresholds in the requests for proposals (RFP) and work with hotels that have pharma-friendly menu options. While most hotels today have medical/pharma expertise within their sales staff, we’ve found that restaurants are not as advanced in the compliance space,” she says. “Communicating constraints upfront is key to achieving the desired outcome. If the hotel or restaurant is aware of the meal cap well in advance, creative menus can be designed.”
Beaulieu points out that meal caps are set for different events in different ways. “There may be one cap for promotional events and a different cap for education events,” she says, “so giving thought to how an event is structured could help with meal-cap compliance.”
Both Bemrose and Beaulieu say limiting a meeting to a shorter timeframe, around a break rather than a full meal, is also an option. And Beaulieu adds, “Planners can also give HCPs the option not to participate in a meal at all or to fully pay for their own meals.”
“Although medical device companies can no longer provide sponsorships under the latest MedTech Europe regulations,” Bemrose says, “pharma companies still can. When some of the stricter regulations came into place, a few pharma companies stopped sponsoring HCPs to congresses, fearful of contravening codes. Over time, companies have found that sponsoring physicians and remaining compliant and ethical is still possible and several have reverted to sponsoring HCPs.”
It’s important to note that MedTech Europe’s code regarding sponsorship isn’t exclusive to Europe. “MedTech Europe wants other medical device companies worldwide to support their initiative,” Schaumann says. As they do, more meetings will be affected.
Despite added scrutiny, Beaulieu agrees sponsorships remain available. “My recommendation to anyone interested in leveraging their participation at a meeting or convention is to call the sponsorship managers. Tell them what your goals are while at the meeting or convention and share your thoughts and ideas for what type of sponsorship your company would find valuable. Sponsorships need to be created with a customized approach today, one that aligns with the goals of the planner and the company participating. Sponsorships have become more of a custom collaboration than a one-size-fits-all approach.”
GDPR mandates aren’t specific to medical meetings. Not only should companies list their internal privacy rules and processes used to protect personal data, Schaumann says, “Attendees should have the choice to opt-in and agree to these policies on the meeting registration form. This should apply to all meetings.”
But what happens when regulations conflict? “An example often used to demonstrate this relates to how requirements of Open Payments can conflict with the rules of GDPR,” Beaulieu says. “The Open Payments law requires meeting organizers to track and report TOVs between health care companies and U.S. physicians. GDPR mandates that European health care professionals have the right to ask that their data be removed from a database. We know a significant percent of U.S. physicians hold dual citizenships, so it’s safe to assume some are European. This would make it impossible to report any TOV that Open Payments mandates. The only clear answer is to be certain everything is done with oversight from your legal and regulatory department.”
As if that weren’t enough, Côté notes, GDPR affects meetings not only in terms of what data is being collected and what it will be used for but in terms of the type of technology is used. “We’re creating new sign-offs and different technology to accommodate certain operating systems and their compliance with GDPR requirements,” she says.
While Beaulieu says working with hotels, restaurants and venues that really understand medical meeting compliance can be challenging, she’s optimistic. “Many companies are investing in training for their staff so they understand the complexities of the medical meetings industry and how best to offer solutions. Many are making the investment in the HMCC program and earning their designation, which is helpful in terms of working with medical meeting planners.”
In a strong market, Beaulieu says, venue sourcing and finding space, dates and rates becomes challenging. But working with partners who have invested in trying to understand their customers’ needs and industry is a plus for planners.
Bemrose, too, sees more hotels — globally — becoming compliance savvy in part due to education, in part due to wanting health care-meeting business. “We’re seeing hotels more willing to break out package rates to help with TOV reporting, ask questions regarding therapy areas and competitors, and often have a dedicated health care specialist on their team. We prefer to work with hotels that understand health care events, and this is fed back to stakeholders.”
Restaurants aren’t making the same changes. However, he says, “As long as they’re perceived not to be deluxe and are willing to work with meal caps, we’re happy to put them forward.”
While issues will always arise, “They will only be challenges if companies and planners are not educated on the regulations,” Schaumann says. “An ignorance of the law is not excusable.” That’s where the HMCC, the most recognizable designation in the medical-meeting industry today, comes in.
“It’s not just necessary to take courses, it’s imperative,” Schaumann says. “Planners and suppliers need to know what compliance, transfer of value, spend track and reporting mean. There are nearly 2,000 HMCCs representing 17 countries, and MPI launched the first HMCC class in Asia this year in July. It’s an extensive course covering every aspect of medical-meeting compliance.” To keep up with evolving regulations, the HMCC is updated weekly and the HMCC Refresh courses are updated as well, Schaumann says.
Planners holding the certification must recertify every two years, but they have to keep up with changes far more frequently. There’s an app to help planners and companies do just that. “My Compliance Wizard is the easiest way to look up a country or state and immediately be in touch with local planning information and the latest codes of compliance,” Schaumann says. The app is available on www.mycw.info, and MPI members receive a discount.
If a company has a compliance director or compliance attorney on staff, Schaumann adds, planners should defer to them for advice.
Being unprepared, Beaulieu says, is a mistake. “One way to address that is to have a foundation of information and I think the HMCC course that MPI offers is a must-have first step for any medical or health care meeting planner.” She advises planners “to get involved in the industry and attend meetings.” In addition to the app, she suggests using the Policy & Medicine Compliance Update as a good resource.
“Medical/pharma meeting planners must balance the changes and demands on understanding the global impact of health care compliance to be fully successful,” Côté says. “They should always do a quick review of rules in the destination where they’re planning the meeting.”
Europe, too, has education options. “HMCC is quite U.S.-centric, so European-based planners don’t often have access to its courses,” Bemrose says. “As well as conducting our own internal and Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) training, we meet with external trainers in the U.K. It’s always good to keep up to date with compliance regulations and any external course that helps with your understanding can’t be a bad thing.”
So what’s coming down the road? Bemrose points to the way meeting content is formed. “HCPs receive and interact with information through many channels and this is altering the shape of what is required at face-to-face meetings. We’re beginning to see the personalization of agendas, where the content or breakout sessions are shaped around the physicians as opposed to the association or health care company. I still see face-to-face meetings as a vital part of the HCP’s learning cycle,” he says. “However, there are now other platforms that can be used such as virtual/hybrid meetings, digital content and even forums where HCPs share their learning. I also see patients and patient groups influencing meeting content more and more.”
Côté sees a shift in prioritizing the attendee experience. “Many organizations want to be the ‘meeting of choice’ for HCPs, which means attendee-focused, content-driven sessions, innovative experiences and hands-on training, including soft skills,” she says.
“The good news is that we’ll continue to see an increase in medical meetings worldwide,” Schaumann notes. “Politics will continue to affect medical-meeting policies, Asia will become the second-largest pharmaceutical destination in 2020 and there are changes taking place in Asia that planners will need to address.”
“Ensure you’re educated, stay connected to an expert in the industry and stay current on changing laws and regulations,” Côté says.
Schaumann encourages planners not to give up. “It’s funny how many times an attendee at one of my training sessions will throw up their hands and say, ‘I quit.’ I encourage them to not be frustrated, but to embrace the specialty field they’re in. There’s a lot to know and a lot to absorb about compliance, but the more you learn the more knowledgeable you’ll be, and that’s a huge benefit to an advancing career path.”
Beaulieu advises planners to get involved in groups and organizations that can help them stay connected to information, and to carve out time each week for reading information, listening in on webinars and attending meetings. “And take advantage of the support community,” she continues. “MPI started the MPI MD community to specifically address the needs of medical-meeting planners. We’ve done some great work and created resources that are useful. We’re excited about some of the initiatives we’ll share by the end of this year. It’s vital to keep your network alive and robust. There’s nothing greater than interactions with industry peers and learning how they’ve met head-on challenges they’ve faced in the industry.”
She also reminds planners that their work should make them proud. “To provide better patient care is not just the work or responsibility of physicians. There are so many components that fit together to make this happen and each of us plays a small part. Collectively, our efforts are helping advance health care at a rapid rate.”
Bemrose advises much the same in Europe, “Read the major compliance regulations such as EFPIA, ABPI, PhRMA and the Sunshine Act, particularly around hospitality and meetings. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use the newspaper test: Would you be happy that the meeting/function was reported in the papers? And don’t forget,” he says, “in some small way, you’re helping to improve patient lives.” C&IT