by Michael J. Shapiro | February 01, 2013

Strategic meetings management programs have been a best practice among major medical and pharmaceutical companies for nearly 20 years. But in the past year or so there's been a renewed emphasis on SMM, thanks to passage of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a key part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

"It's something that's getting a lot of attention," explains Steve O'Malley, senior vice president of St. Louis-based Maritz Travel. "That's because there's a great deal of liability attached to it, it's complex, and it affects everyone in the pharma and health-care sectors," adds O'Malley, who also serves as general manager of Maxvantage, the Maritz strategic alliance with American Express that offers SMM expertise.

In short, the Sunshine Act requires any companies that manufacture drugs or medical devices to report to the federal government any and all payments to health-care professionals and hospitals. These "transfers of value," as the act calls them, include travel expenses, consulting and speaking fees, grants, samples, royalties, food and possibly other forms of payment, depending on how the law is interpreted. The government plans to post the reported payment information on a public website, readily accessible by anyone who wants to see how much any given doctor is receiving from medical manufacturers.

Companies in the pharmaceutical and medical-device sectors have long been subject to guidelines, as well as a slew of state regulations, regarding such payments and interactions. Still, the Sunshine Act has major ramifications for medical meeting professionals, holding them to still more stringent levels of data collection and reporting, and making it absolutely essential to report information on a per-attendee basis.

"There is more reason now than ever before to look at strategic meetings management solutions," notes Pat Schaumann, president of meeting-services providers Meeting IQ and Present China, as well as the founder of the International Medical Meeting Professionals Association.

A strategic meetings management program is typically a company-wide initiative that involves many stakeholders -- the meetings team as well as travel, procurement, risk management, legal, technology and others -- to standardize various aspects of the meeting approval, sourcing and contracting process. The goal is to capture as much meetings data as possible and increase the efficiency of planning processes as well as leverage with suppliers, while also mitigating company risk. Particularly crucial to health-care companies is the ability to produce detailed reports as a result of the effort. "They incorporate so many components that we're now required to track anyway. And now there are penalties, fines and even, in some cases, jail for a violation. So it really becomes a companywide issue with respect to meetings," says Schaumann.