Training Takeaways from the 2021 Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics & Compliance Congress, and What It All Means for Your 2022 Curriculum!

The virtual PharmaCertify booth at the Compliance Congress featured compliance training modules and games for workshops and online use!

The Pharmaceutical Compliance Forum (PCF) understandably went virtual again for the Virtual 22nd Annual Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress. Though the lack of booth traffic that inevitably accompanies virtual conferences left the PharmaCertify team longing for the return to in-person events, this year’s presentations featured a bevy of new and compelling content from industry professionals and government regulators alike.

Here are ten takeaways to keep top of mind as you continue to plan, revise, and refine your training curriculum for the first quarter of 2022 and beyond.

The focus on speaker programs isn’t going away.

If the 2020 release of the OIG’s Special Fraud Alert related to speaker programs was a figurative shot across the bow of the life sciences industry, the updated PhRMA Code, scheduled to take effect January 2022, offers steadying guidance on the details of how to conduct more compliant programs. In the OIG Update session and across multiple mini summits involving industry leaders, the mandate was clear: speaker programs are rife with the potential for fraudulent activity and assessing program practices and the level at which you train on those practices is crucial.

Hold the third parties you use for managing speaker programs to the same standards as your internal organization.

The revised Compliance Foundations eLearning module, Managing Speaker Program Risk, is now available!

Third parties have long been a staple of emphasis at industry compliance conferences, but the increased emphasis on speaker programs highlighted in recent CIAs, the OIG’s Special Fraud Alert, and the revised PhRMA Code speaks to the need for increased scrutiny. And presenters at the conference picked up on that theme. As one presenter noted, “You need to be clear up front, when you are negotiating with third parties you expect full transparency.” And training needs to be part of that consideration from the start of the conversations. Have the vendors you’re considering instituted their own training on speaker programs? Do they need to be added to your list of learners? If yes, do they have access to your enterprise LMS or will they need to access the courses through a separate portal?  

Look to the new PhRMA Code for guidance.

During the mini summit focused on the OIG Alert, PhRMA Code, and AdvaMed Code, Julie Wagner, from PhRMA, detailed the process the organization went through to plan and revamp its Code. It was clearly a thoughtful and well-planned series of steps. Other presenters throughout the conference (on the industry side as well as government representatives) emphasized the need for companies to look to the Code as a framework for how to conduct HCP interactions. The updates to the Code reflect the key takeaways from recent corporate integrity agreements as well as the challenges of conducting business in a post-pandemic world. Whether your company is a signatory or not, training on the new PhRMA Code is more critical than ever. That’s why we have rebuilt our Compliance Foundations eLearning module, The PhRMA Code, with a more intuitive interface and design, and an instructionally redesigned approach to the content. Contact us at info@pharmacertify.com to see a content outline.       

Assess risk across your organization, and don’t forget your training curriculum.

I may be a bit biased since the moderator is my colleague, Dan O’Connor, but the mini summit titled, Optimize Your Compliance Training: A Practical Approach to the DOJ’s Guidance, was one of the most important of the entire conference. Dan discussed the need to assess risk according to audience, topic, format, and cadence with his panelists, Katrina Church of Bioventus, Matthew Hill of Novo Nordisk, and Karen Snyder of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. If you’re not mapping your activities frequency against the risk associated with each of those activities, the learning will suffer, and risk will rise. All risk is not created equal, and as one presenter in the DOJ/SEC panel said, “It’s difficult to implement an effective program if you don’t know where your risks are.”  

You really do want employees to speak up. So, tell them.

Self-remediation was a theme during the DOJ Keynote as panelists emphasized the importance of companies bringing issues found during their own due diligence to the attention of the agency. Doing so appears to go a long way in how the agency treats cases, especially when the companies demonstrate they are taking the necessary measures to identify the root causes of the issue and remediate them. Does your training encourage employees to speak up when they witness potential violations? Is that message pushed out in periodic scenarios as part of your on-going microlearning efforts? The compliance department can’t be everywhere at all times, so reports of violations are more likely to come from the field. Make sure your learners are well-versed in your reporting and non-retaliation policies.

Be ready for surprises when the industry shifts back to field-based interactions.  

During the Chief Compliance Officer Fireside Chat, one CCO touched on the need to expect surprises as the industry returns to more field-based interactions by saying, “When we get back out into the field, I’m sure there will be things we weren’t expecting.” Is your curriculum built to respond to those surprises? Have you integrated the type of learning nuggets that can be quickly modified and re-deployed as the bumps in the compliance road appear? Including such easy-to-modify components such as mini-modules, alerts, and read and signs into your curriculum creates the agility to respond rapidly before those surprises cause even more uproar.

Patient programs and third-party vendors: a risky combination.

Since the OIG requires manufacturers to take steps to exclude federally insured patients from patient assistance programs, presenters in the mini summit dedicated to patient assistance programs spent a considerable amount of time discussing the need for thorough assessments of the vendors who manage the programs. As one presenter commented, “part of that is looking at the capabilities of the vendor, what processes they have, do they have rules that align with your company’s policies and expectations, and do they have qualified and trained personnel to run these programs.” And as was highlighted, multiple vendors may be involved in different aspects of the programs. The internal and external training matrix can be complex for patient programs but identifying the appropriate level of training across all vendor personnel is the first step to ensuring continuing compliance.

Measure your company’s culture and look for opportunities to strengthen it.

One of the medical device summits featured a lively discussion of company culture as a driver for employee engagement. The conversation focused on the idea that culture is the driving force behind an organization’s approach to its business and everyone in that organization is responsible for maintaining that culture. As one presenter noted, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” It was a refreshing twist on the rules-based vs. values-based debate and at PharmaCertify, we absolutely agree that life sciences companies need to seek out opportunities to strengthen their ethical cultures – including through training. After all its in our mission statement: helping life sciences companies strengthen their compliance cultures and reduce risk through training.

When it comes to compliance, patients are the new HCPs.

Comments from panelists in the mini summit focused on patient advocacy organizations, their growing reach, and the attention they therefore require from a compliance standpoint. Even the smaller, niche organizations have a big voice with governmental agencies, so they shouldn’t be ignored. Is your compliance program, including your training curriculum, addressing patient advocacy to the appropriate level? The risk is real and as one presenter stressed, “they are the new HCPs.”

Social influencers need to be considered.

The AUSA Roundtable session concluded with a notable discussion on the influx of social influencers and the expectation for more enforcement related to these celebrities who sometimes hold sway over the purchasing habits of the American public. A recent situation involving celebrity, Kourtney Kardashian, was cited as an example of one influencer making public comments, which led to a warning letter being issued to the company by the FDA. Kardashian made a public appearance on a popular television show, as a recognized and paid spokesperson for the product, and made false or misleading efficacy and risk claims. As trivial as the topic of social influencers may seem, they need to be properly trained and prepared to appropriately speak about products.    

Summary

I have only scratched the surface of the plethora of content presented during the during the Virtual 22nd Annual Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress. As with past conferences, the depth and expansiveness of topics covered was impressive and well-suited for newcomers to the life sciences compliance industry as well as experienced veterans. There was something for everyone.

PCF, the organizers, and all the presenters deserve a hearty congratulations and kudos for such a wide-ranging and informative conference. There remains no better resource for up-to-date best practices and advice than conferences like this one. Hopefully, the pandemic will be in our proverbial rear-view mirror this time next year and we’ll meet in person for the 23rd Annual Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress and never have to deal with that “virtual” word in the title again.

Thanks for reading!

Sean Murphy
PharmaCertify By NXLevel Solutions

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