How To Blend Science and Promotion at a Heathcare Exhibit

Sep 02, 2008

Healthcare conventions and exhibitions have gained significantly in popularity over the last 10 years. Attendance is up, as are the number of exhibits vying for the attention of the market. And yet, walk the length of an exhibit floor of virtually any major medical society meeting this year and a curious thing happens. While the level of activity is high, the level of scientific discussion is often minimal. It gives rise to the question: What is going on here?

The dearth of scientific discussion, I believe, is the effect of the heightened concern regarding potential violations of FDA guidance on off-label discussions. The result is lamentable: An increasingly restrictive and arid atmosphere that threatens to sap the interest of attendees, and in turn prompts industry personnel to question whether it's worth the effort to participate in exhibitions at all. And without meaningful scientific discussions occurring on the exhibit floor, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide a cogent argument for the continued investment in this industry segment.

It is a challenge that needs to be addressed. And it will take a collaborative effort on the part of both commercial entities and convention supporters, including medical societies, to make the exhibit venue a dynamic environment once again—a place of frequent and meaningful discussions. While it is neither reasonable nor correct to expect accreditation of events occurring in the exhibition area (it is, after all, a promotional venue), the level of discourse should and can be improved.

In the meantime, there are things that you, as a commercial supporter, can do (while remaining within regulatory boundaries) that would enhance your exhibit and foster the exchange of scientific information.

Change the Things You Can

First, a caveat: Before implementing any plans or strategies, it would be prudent to review them with your legal and/or regulatory department. Short of that, here is a basic tenet to follow:

  • If an activity is conducted by/for a commercial entity and is not accredited for continuing education, it is promotion.
  • The activity and the content may be relevant, educational, and scientifically robust, but if it is not accredited for continuing education, it is promotion.

This applies without regard to the individual who is conducting the activity. It is not the title of the person leading the activity that makes the difference; rather it is the role the person is fulfilling in delivering the activity.

A virtual alphabet soup of acronyms accompanies the various accreditations. CME, CE, CEUs, Elective versus Prescribed, Category 1 or Category 2 are all applicable depending upon the accrediting organization. It is my observation that the term Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is gaining traction, especially for organizations that accredit activities targeted to a mixed audience of healthcare practitioners. The 800-pound gorilla in the mix is the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). Every person involved with providing educational content, accredited or otherwise, should download and review the ACCME Standards for Commercial Support. The document can be found on the ACCME's Web site at http://www.accme.org/.

It would be fair to say that until recently, most accrediting organizations followed ACCME's lead in developing and implementing policies and procedures regarding accreditation of educational activities, including those supported by commercial entities. But that sphere of influence is showing signs of waning as ACCME becomes increasingly dogmatic in its decision making, as reflected in their recently issued guidance regarding the role of commercial supporters in the CME enterprise. This guidance is still open for comment, and as of this date the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined. But it is not unreasonable to state that many in the continuing education community now feel that ACCME is out of sync with its stakeholders.