by By Jennifer Nicole Dienst | January 01, 2009

pill2This month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's updated, voluntary Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals will go into effect, featuring stringent rules on gifts and giveaways that some say could chase away exhibitors at continuing medical education events -- a specialized niche in the meetings industry that combines presumably nonbiased instruction with the commercial imperatives of a trade show.

Other guidelines, on details ranging from when meals are allowed to third-party compliance, are laid out in the revised code as well. And the PhRMA update isn't the only set of regulations that planners have to mind. Depending on the type of meeting and who the exhibitors are, the American Medical Association, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center and other accrediting bodies offer their own ethics and compliance codes to follow.

With more states passing their own disclosure laws, not to mention the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year, the medical meetings industry is awash in myriad regulatory measures, some voluntary like the PhRMA code, that make it increasingly complicated to navigate. What follows is a summary of the latest major developments and what they mean to planners.

Gifts and giveaways
The new PhRMA code pulls no punches: "Noneducational items (such as pens, note pads, mugs and similar 'reminder' items with company or product logos) should not be offered to health-care professionals or members of their staff...even if they are of minimal value...or are accompanied by patient or physician educational materials. It is appropriate for companies, where permitted by law, to offer items designed primarily for the education of patients or health-care professionals if the items are not of substantial value ($100 or less) and do not have value to health-care professionals outside of his or her professional responsibilities."

This elimination of giveaways has some planners worried that meetings revenue will decline. "There will be a reduction in exhibitors and their giveaways," asserts Nancy Arendt, director of education and meeting services for the Atlanta-based Medical Association of Georgia. "I am concerned, but the new code hasn't had any direct effect yet on our current planning. I know some pharmaceutical company exhibitors have stated that their hands are tied."

Arendt, who plans about four symposia and one annual meeting a year for her organization's 5,300 physician members, says she thinks many doctors are split on the new no-freebie rule. "Some physicians said that it's about time and that it will help clean up the industry," she notes, "but I know some doctors who want to go home with a bag of goodies." Instead of giving out pens and mugs, Arendt says exhibitors should favor education materials such as anatomical models or CDs, which are allowed as long as their value falls under the recommended $100 ceiling. "I think it's going to take a bit of reinventing the wheel for the marketing folks," she adds.

"The key here is that show organizers and exhibitors should work together to make sure the meeting exhibition floor continues to provide a quality experience for health-care providers to learn about life-saving therapies," says Jennifer Palcher-Silliman, director of communications for the Atlanta-based Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association. She notes that having longer exhibit hours and decreasing or eliminating other activities while the exhibit floor is open can encourage more traffic.

"This [new code] gives us an opportunity to increase the perception that we're about educating health-care professionals first," adds Palcher-Silliman.

In addition to the prohibition of noneducational gifts, the revised PhRMA code also stipulates the following:

•  Company representatives only "occasionally" may provide meals that are "modest by local standards" to healthcare providers "so long as presentations during those meals provide scientific or educational value" and "are not part of a recreational event."

•  All pharmaceutical company representatives should "receive training about the applicable laws, regulations and industry codes of practice, including this code, that govern interactions with health-care professionals."

•  Companies that choose to abide by the code and complete an annual certification will be listed by PhRMA on a public website.

To read the entire code, go to