Training-Related Reflections on PCF’s 23rd Compliance Congress, Part 3

The Changing Field Medical Maze

Welcome to my third post on the 23rd Annual Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Ethics and Compliance Congress. Through these posts, I have been reviewing some of the key topics covered during the conference and providing my reactions, as well as related tips and suggestions for creating better a compliance training curriculum.

This week, I touch on key points raised concerning the special relationship between field medical and commercial teams, and the training needs created by that relationship. Spoiler alert: the more things change, the more your sales representatives need to understand the role of your medical team.  

Ghosts of Conferences Past

In past years, presenters at compliance congresses would be quick to emphasize the need to draw a hard line between the actions of medical and commercial personnel. Medical was siloed into the communication of science, and product promotion was left to the commercial team — and never the twain shall meet … well, except for the joint interactions during which their separate permissible actions were clearly delineated.

The safest path was to ensure the actions of the medical team were laser-focused on science and external interactions only occurred at the request of healthcare professionals. And the easiest (and most straight-forward) path to compliance by both teams was through role-based training that made clear the appropriate actions for each –‘Sales reps, you can do this, and MSLs, you can do that’ (and vice versa).

Ghosts of Conferences Present

Well, in recent years, “the times, they are a changing.” As presenters in the Medical Affairs Today: Managing Evolving Risks session and the Recent Federal and State Enforcement Actions session noted, a shift is underway in the industry. Now some medical personnel are quicker to proactively provide information to HCPs, rather than just in response to a medical information request. Or, as it was said in the Recent Federal and State Enforcement Actions session, “Companies are shifting to a patient-centric focus, and that’s creating a sense of one company … that’s causing us to see a lot of creative ideas by medical, which poses some challenges.”

In terms of enforcement, one could understand why the industry would be lulled into a false sense of security. After all, recent corporate integrity agreements have hardly focused on the relationship between commercial and medical. But, as was highlighted in the Recent Federal and State Enforcement Actions session, some recent CIAs do include provisions relating to that relationship and the sharing of information. In addition, enforcement actions are typically lagging in nature, and settlements follow a few years after the actual conduct.

Promotion is Promotion, No Matter the Source

Presenters in both sessions made clear that the government doesn’t care what your role is. While collaboration across the two groups can have the noblest of intentions, sales reps and medical personnel must consider the potential risks of their actions. Guardrails are needed from the outset and the mistaken belief that the medical team’s actions and words cannot be interpreted as promotional just because of their job titles must be exposed for the dangerous fallacy that it is. To borrow a phrase from the Medical Affairs Today session, the medical team “cannot be driving towards promotional claims and they cannot be salesy.”  Both teams need to be reminded of this on a regular basis through a multitude of touchpoints throughout their schedules – in other words, through continuous reinforcement and performance support.

Take the Role-Based Fork in the Road Carefully

By now, you may be asking how you should adjust your medical personnel’s compliance training in response to this industry shift, but that should not be your only concern. The training plan for your commercial team may need to be evaluated and modified as well. More than ever, sales representatives must understand the role of medical personnel, and what medical personnel are and are not permitted to do during joint interactions with HCPs.

An effective and modern commercial training plan includes a broad understanding and overview of the field medical role. Do your reps understand the role of field medical personnel? Are they continuously reminded of the need to keep the medical and commercial roles distinct? To appropriately prepare sales reps for their interactions with HCPs, their training should cover the need for the field medical role, its purpose, examples of typical field medical activities, and the principles behind them.  

Joint Interactions Need Joint Training

Presenters in the Medical Affairs Today session touched on the need for collaboration between medical and commercial and the number of situations where their paths can cross, including HCP introductions, payor communications, speaker programs, and medical congresses. These interactions are filled with risk, so the divide between the two roles, and how each team can navigate that divide needs to be emphasized continuously in training.   

Foundational training on joint interactions doesn’t need to be divided into multiple modules to effectively cover the requirements of each team. A successful collaboration demands the sharing of knowledge that can only be achieved through a collaborative training initiative.

On the reinforcement front, opportunities to remind those involved in joint interactions abound.  For example, shortly before the start of a conference, you could deploy a microlearning that covers the rules for commercial vs. medical/scientific booths. Or a virtual live JEOPARDY game, for example, can be populated with questions related to HCP/MSL introductions, senior-level interactions, and interactions with payors. (By the way, we offer the only officially licensed JEOPARDY game on the market. It’s cool, it’s a great learning tool, and it’s easily customized with your content. Visit our website for a demo.)

Finally, it’s not all about interactions with HCPs. Both teams should be regularly reminded of the guardrails around internal interactions, too (eg, medical is not permitted to share an HCP’s response to an off-label question with commercial).


While the perception of the field medical role may be changing, the need to educate both your medical and commercial teams about each other’s purpose and functions has not.

The end of the year is a good time to re-evaluate your training plan to ensure your commercial and field medical curricula feature the foundational training, reinforcement solutions, and performance support tools necessary to establish and maintain a sense of compliance across both teams. If you’d like to see demos of the custom and off-the-shelf training courses we have helped your peers deploy in the life sciences industry, please contact us at

Thanks for reading! Happy holidays and best wishes for an even more compliant 2023!

Sean Murphy
PharmaCertify by NXLevel Solutions         

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