by Jonathan Vatner | January 01, 2007

Map of EuropeAmong planners of physician-attended pharmaceutical meetings in the United States, the PhRMA Code and the Office of the Inspector General’s guidance on pharmaceutical marketing are the twin tablets of the regulatory bible. The first, from the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, is the voluntary code of conduct that keeps U.S. companies aboveboard when marketing to health-care professionals, and the second is the mandatory and somewhat vague set of government-imposed rules which, if broken, can result in severe financial retribution.

For U.S.-based planners of such meetings held abroad, American rules still apply -- while a set of European authorities applies still more regulations. Although good practices generally are the same everywhere, planners should know how the guidelines differ, depending on where the meeting is held.

“If you’re already following the PhRMA Code, you’re pretty good anyway,” says Judy Benaroche Johnson, CMP, president and CEO of Rx Worldwide Meetings, based in Plano, Texas. However, she adds, “Erring on the side of caution, it would be up to me to know what the laws were, and to know what I could or couldn’t do.”

Following is a brief rundown of the rules to know when holding pharmaceutical meetings in Europe.

The overarching code

The Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (, to which many national associations of pharmaceutical companies belong, put into effect its revised global code of marketing conduct on Jan. 1 of this year. This document is meant to fill in holes in the regulatory landscape: It will act as the voluntary code in countries where regulations are not in place and will serve as a baseline set of rules to follow for companies that do not belong to a pharmaceutical manufacturers association. Though it’s very similar to the PhRMA Code, here are some key points.

* The code states that all meetings for health-care professionals should be meant either to provide information to attendees (an educational meeting or speaker training) or to get information from them (an investigator or consultant meeting). Doctors should not be invited to meetings that aren’t education-based.

* No company can take a health-care professional abroad unless there is a logistical or security reason to do so. In other words, if a company is holding a meeting for French doctors, the meeting must be held in France. A pharmaceutical company cannot choose a location for doctors, whether it has hired them or not, based on where they’ll want to go. The same logic applies to resorts: “Renowned or extravagant venues” cannot be chosen for meetings.

* All promotional material must be explicit as to where the medication has been approved.

* Sponsorship of doctors’ attendance can include only the attendees’ travel, meals, accommodation and registration fees. Meals can be provided only for educational programs.

* Entertainment must be secondary to the education.

* When looking over the elements of the program, every aspect should be seen as “moderate,” “modest” and “reasonable.” Hospitality should not exceed what the recipients would pay on their own.

* Gifts must be modest and relevant to the health-care profession. Other inexpensive gifts may be given “infrequently” on holidays.