Ten Training Takeaways from the 21st Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress

The Pharmaceutical Compliance Forum (PCF) went to great lengths to replicate the experience of a live conference in this year’s virtual Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress. The virtual conference platform featured presentation rooms and realistic exhibit halls that made navigating the user interface simple and logical.

Organizers took advantage of the virtual nature of the conference to maximize the amount of content available through live presentations, along with a plethora of recorded presentations available for viewing any time. In fact, if you attended the conference, the sessions will remain available to you for up to six months – so don’t be shy about logging back in and catching up on what you missed.

I’ve done just that over the last few weeks and in the spirit of the PharmaCertify mission to help you reduce risk and strengthen the compliance culture in your company, here are ten key conference takeaways to help you build a more effective training curriculum.

  1. Meals, meals, meals.
    How to handle meals during the pandemic (in speaker programs and otherwise) continues to be a common refrain during conferences. Speakers from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries touched on the topic, with the conversation mostly focused on the importance of sending meals only to HCPs’ offices and hospitals, and not to their homes. PhRMA’s guidance released earlier this year is a good starting point for updating policies and building new training: https://phrma.org/-/media/Project/PhRMA/PhRMA-Org/PhRMA-Org/PDF/P-R/PhRMA-Code-Section-2.pdf. Clearly if you have not addressed the way in which meals should be provided in your policies and subsequently in your training, you should.
  2. Remember the changes to the Sunshine Act.
    Speaking of updates, attendees were reminded that the changes to the Sunshine Act go into effect in January. If your core Sunshine Act training hasn’t been updated, you need to make your learners aware of the changes in the list of covered recipients and the nature of payment categories…quickly!
  3. Be aggressive.
    Throughout the conference, government regulators agreed that they tend to view companies that have a robust compliance program more favorably during investigations. Or, as one panelist in the AUSA Roundtable put it, “if you’ve properly dealt with the problem, we’re probably going to go away.” That extends to your compliance curriculum. So not only is a “check the box” approach to training a bad idea in terms of learning, it also isn’t going to impress regulators when they come calling. A modern and effective curriculum needs to be evaluated against your company’s risk, and it needs to be supplemented with regular nuggets of training spread across the learner’s timeline.
  4. Keep the communication flowing.
    An effective curriculum doesn’t end with the deployment of training. The importance of on-going communication during the pandemic was reiterated in multiple sessions throughout the conference. Presenters focused on how the sudden shift in the way business is conducted has forced them to think about how they stay in touch with leadership and the field. The need to think differently has clearly given birth to ideas and best practices that will continue post-pandemic. Whether designating “compliance liaisons” from the businesses to bring ideas and questions back from the field, or rotating people from the businesses through the compliance department, presenters are finding creative methods to ensure compliance stays top of mind for the long term.
  5. Patient support and speaker programs are still in focus.
    Gregory Demske and Mary Riordan reminded attendees that the OIG’s focus is still squarely on patient support programs and speaker programs. And interestingly, Demske encouraged viewers to ask themselves if they really need to go back to in-person speaker programs after the pandemic and warned that the agency is going to continue to look carefully at “payments to prescribers that are under the guise of speaker programs.” Recent CIAs focused on speaker programs and patient support programs are a good starting point as you evaluate your training plan.
  6. Pay attention to social media.
    According to presenters in the social media mini summit, 70-80% of patients get information from online resources. While that’s not a surprising number in our digital age, it’s concerning in light of the dearth of guidance from federal agencies. Presenters emphasized the need to stay abreast of the emerging social media platforms and evaluate training plans in context of the limited social media guidance that is available. And the risks of social media aren’t limited to the pharmaceutical industry. In the Medical Device Roundtable session, one presenter warned that cutting-edge technology often can lead to representatives being overly enthusiastic on social media. It’s a scary, changing world online, and as a compliance professional, you need to be continually addressing it in targeted training.
  7. Customize training for company-specific risk.
    I may be biased, but the discussion about the risk-frequency framework by Dan O’Connor in the State-of-the-Art Compliance Training mini summit is “can’t miss” conference viewing. If you did miss it, let me know, and I will be happy to coordinate a brief review of the concept with Dan. The framework is a great starting point for evaluating the appropriate mix of training based on the riskiness of the activity and the frequency at which that activity occurs. Ours is not a one-style-of-training fits all world and the framework is a good way to look at your curriculum and make adjustments in the tools and techniques to address risk accordingly.
  8. Emphasize a culture of integrity, not just compliance.
    Those of us who have been working in life sciences compliance for a long time know the industry has been touting the need to shift away from a rules-based approach to compliance to one based on values and ethics. That shift is in process and was best summarized by a presenter in the Integrating Ethics and Compliance session when she said she finds the word “compliance” to be limiting and she prefers the word “integrity” to emphasize that how one does something is as important as what someone does. Or, as another presenter in the same session said, “now is the time to create a culture where people are comfortable speaking up.” That’s the language of a values-based approach and it certainly seems like it’s here to stay. Does your training incorporate these themes?
  9. The core rules still apply.
    While COVID-19 has changed the way in which business is conducted and how interactions occur, the core principles of compliance still apply. In fact, as multiple regulators and industry professionals were quick to note, “COVID is not an excuse for non-compliance.” Some of the details may have changed, but speaker programs need to be monitored, speakers need to be trained, reps need to stay on-label, federal regulations still apply,  and state disclosure laws need to be followed.
  10. More risk is okay if you have a strong foundation to manage that risk.
    Many years ago, when I started working in compliance training, I could not have imagined someone being bold enough to publicly say more risk is okay. But there I was in the CCO Fireside Chat, when I heard a presenter confidently say, “striking a balance between the legal environment and business goals is key.” To my surprise, he followed up by saying, “and to help the business be more risk tolerant you need training that is sticky and impactful.” The assessment is an honest and refreshing one, and hearing the word “sticky” used in reference to compliance training brings music to the ears of someone who has been part of a team encouraging the industry to do that for 15 years. The future may be filled with more engaging and dynamic training after all.
  11. Thanks for reading!

    Sean Murphy
    PharmaCertify By NXLevel Solutions

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