The meetings journey of the healthcare professional (HCP) is significantly more convoluted than it is for conference attendees and PCOs in other industries.
While these employees and employers attend business events for fundamentally the same reason as anyone else, namely to expand their knowledge, connect with their peers and discuss new advances in treatment, they are held to account throughout the process for the way in which they conduct their business.
So how can we engage successfully with HCPs when looking at the future of meetings?
Given the profligacy of events in some other industries (the gift bags at the Oscars for example cost an estimated US$200,000 and is an unofficial cash-in, and may in future generate a five-figure tax bill for recipients), the attention to detail in suppressing costs is remarkable in the pharmaceutical industry.
Much of this is the result of guidelines and codes presented by local and regional bodies, such as the ABPI in the UK, or the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).
Concerns over whether or not the adequate checks have been done must be confronted immediately, according to Andrew Moore, head of compliance and technology at Ashfield Meetings & Events, a UK-based agency specialising in creating and running business events in the healthcare sector.
“In the majority of instances clients have a firm idea of where they wish to host their event, they know the demographic and will look for central hubs,” says Moore.
“Clients will go through the appropriate channels internally when seeking approval. Then they have to apply for approval through their governing body. In some countries you have to supply a lot of paperwork,” he adds.
Playing the system
Some destinations have tried to combat the clampdown on pharma event extravagance by taking measures to ensure they are still considered by PCOs and associations. There is, according to Moore, a lot of grey when it comes to codes.
For example, many hotels declassified themselves in an attempt to qualify for pharma business restricted to 4-star accommodation. As a result, it is now bad practice to stay in unclassified hotels. Others have changed their names from the ostentatious ‘Palace’ or ‘Luxury’ to less presuming alternatives.
Some countries propose not only a ban on luxury 4-star or 5-star hotels, but include guidelines such as a maximum spend limit per night. So even if you can find a higher classification of hotel for the price at which accommodation is limited, it may be deemed unethical to stay there.
In 2016 the EFPIA mandated that all members had to publically disclose all financial interactions with an HCP.
While the US may have led the way with its Sunshine Act (the National Physician Payment Transparency Program, aka Open Payments scheme) which requires applicable manufacturers of drugs, devices or medical supplies to annually report certain payments, the pressure on others to achieve this transparency comes almost immediately.
Neither the individual nor the company wants to leave themselves open to interpretation, because in the public domain a reputation is everything.
This is all, of course, offset against the fact that medical or pharma professionals are an exportable asset for any country. Sharing knowledge and spreading the word is a fundamental part of raising awareness, however it must be done in such a way as to be beyond reproach.
And should a medical professional be invited to speak at an event, a practice that typically involves fine hotels and incentives such as wine tasting or regional tours, then they have to do so not from under the auspices of the organisation they represent, but as a client of a public speaker bureau or agency.
And even then, if the perception is that they are being paid for their presence or that there is some form of endorsement at play, the feedback into their native industry – one in which reputation counts for much – is likely to have repercussions.
Remote victims of success?
Ultimately, perhaps potential delegates in the healthcare sector, with its increased focus on frugality and transparency, have been driven to adopt remote networking technology to a greater extent than those in other industries.
With changes in legislation and shifts in technology able to facilitate remote learning, HCPs who would otherwise travel halfway around the globe for a scientific meeting, advisory board or standalone meeting, may forego the personal touch in favour of a few additional days at their practice.
Today’s HCPs weigh their potential attendance against a stringent set of tests. They have become increasingly selective, seeking alternative medical education channels and only attending meetings in person known to deliver a return on their objectives and time.
Ashfield has created a white paper titled The Science of Meetings which, according to a spokesman for the company, aims to find out what drives HCPs to attend scientific meetings, what criteria they use in evaluating their value, and how they see the scientific meetings of the future evolving. Visit the Ashfield website for more information.
This article was written by Antony Reeve-Crook and first published in Conference & Meetings World magazine