Understanding the PhRMA Code

There are industry trade meetings, and then there are pharmaceutical industry meetings. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial for medical meeting planners and the pharmaceutical companies that employ them.

Let's consider your average electronics industry blow-out in Las Vegas. Can companies provide ground transportation to attendees? Yes—in a stretch Hummer with bar, banquettes, video players, sunroof and, well, anything else they want.

Now, let's say you have a group of 15 physician consultants coming to a quiet, four-star hotel on the outskirts of Las Vegas to review ongoing pharmaceutical trial results. Can you provide transportation? Yes—for their convenience, for the efficiency of the meeting, and for security. But you can't do it for entertainment purposes or to impress them. Modest Town Cars will do just fine to convey your guests.

As with just about everything that has to do with the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, certain important terms appear with great regularity. One example is the word "modest," as in "modest, as judged by local standards."

But what does "modest" mean when accommodating the needs of affluent, highly educated, well-traveled, often demanding, and time-pressured physicians? Like our great legal code in general, it's a matter of interpretation. This is vexing for meeting planners and their clients, because it's always simpler to have cut-and-dried rules. But we don't live in a cut-and-dried world when it comes to variations in hotels, catering, ease of air access, and so many other factors the meeting planner must consider.

So we have to use good judgment on behalf of our clients and advise them on what constitutes modest and appropriate, but entirely satisfactory, meeting arrangements. The opposite of modest is excessive, and to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart: We know excessive when we see it.

A modest gift could be a nice $5 pen with your company's logo on it. An excessive gift would be a Mont Blanc pen with your logo on it. A modest meal, under certain circumstances, might consist of duck pate followed by a choice of mahi-mahi or filet mignon, accompanied by a nice Pinot Noir that goes for less than $50 a bottle. An excessive meal might start with Beluga caviar washed down with a Cote de Beaune Montrachet at $450 a bottle.

Common sense will get you a long way in determining what is "modest as judged by local standards." Put yourself in the place of your doctor clients and consider what would make them comfortable, put them at ease, and encourage a receptive mood to learn and work. That might mean a hotel with quiet rooms, late-night room service, a good gym, and a serene cocktail lounge where the doctors might retire for conversation in small groups.

Modesty is all about context. Doctors are not, generally, Franciscan monks, and they do not require utterly austere surroundings to feel at home. And we don't need to place them in the most spartan of settings in order to adhere to the letter and the spirit of PhRMA guidelines.

But we do need to use good judgment on a thousand small details all the time, and as long as we do, everyone will be happy.

Judy Benaroche Johnson, CMP, is CEO of Rx Worldwide Meetings, Inc. She can be reached at [email protected]

Originally published Aug. 1, 2008

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