Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep… You probably think I’m talking about the postman’s creed here. Nope. In my experiences I have dealt with doctors attending a drug company meeting where that saying would apply. They would literally sit out storms in their departure airport for hours waiting for the next available flight to get to the destination city. Pharmaceutical event planning can be a bit like a tight rope walk nowadays. The drug company wants ensure that those who took the time to attend a research, or continuing education, meeting receives the appropriate information and that they are looked after (transportation, meals, etc). It’s also imperative that there is no appearance of ethics violations. A tight rope indeed.
During my full-service destination management days, we did a lot of event planning for pharmaceutical companies. Most of the meetings centered around drug trials, or drug research. I can remember seeing little white envelopes on the registration tables with each of the doctors names waiting for them. We were never told what was in those particular envelopes. But from the sense of urgency on the physicians part it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out. Now I’m sure that the intention was to ensure that the attendees were never out of pocket during the meeting. After all they were attending the meeting because of their expertise. Why should they be out of pocket for any meals or transportation?
Event Planning Options for Pharma Meetings Are Becoming Limited
As the event planner the challenge was to propose creative options for entertaining the delegates after the meeting’s sessions. Depending on the venue (private museum, gallery etc.), the cost per person could be a several hundred dollars. Whereas dinner in a hotel, or nearby, restaurant is considerably less expensive (most of the time). The latter is becoming more of the trend for today’s pharmaceutical meetings.
Gifts, meals, accommodations and any applicable speaker fees all falls under the ethics umbrella of the AMA (American Medical Association), or the CMA (Canadian medical Association) in Canada. Each association has issued ethics guidelines for physicians when it comes to attending such meetings. In a nutshell anyone associated with the meeting (planning committee and speakers, for example) must disclose any financial compensation paid by the drug company. You can read the AMA’s ethics guidelines here, and the CMA’s guidelines here.