Excel for Tracking Training? Been There, Done That, and Sadly, I Have the T-Shirt.

As someone who worked in compliance for a small life sciences company, I like to share the problems and pitfalls I experienced over the years, in the hope of saving others from the same fate. Today, we touch on the subject of Learning Management Systems and in particular, my hard-learned lesson about trying to use Microsoft Excel for some LMS functions. I like Excel as a software program overall. And, if you work in training, it may seem like a logical choice for measuring metrics. It’s not. If your company doesn’t have an enterprise-wide LMS in place, or if a particular group of learners (e.g., third-party vendors) doesn’t have access to your internal LMS, I strongly recommend using a hosted or cloud-based LMS  rather than relying on Excel to handle the tracking and reporting.

Is an LMS a Better Option?

The obvious and primary limitation of using Excel is you still need to find a way to host and deploy the training. Even when used solely for the purposes of tracking and reporting, it can be burdensome, error-prone, and time-consuming. At a minimum, you need to enter all of the learner-related data, as well as the list of courses assigned to each learner, and the dates the courses were deployed and completed. Then there’s the on-going need to keep your learners updated with reminders that training is due, and the work necessary to pull metrics from all the data. Using Excel is a manual process, which opens the door for mistakes and those mistakes, are hard to catch when you’re pouring over hundreds of lines of data.

Using a hosted or cloud-based LMS helps automate those processes, greatly improves accuracy, and lightens the burden of the on-going work. While some upfront work is necessary as an administrator, the LMS itself does most of the heavy lifting. Deployment of the training and management of the completion records are handled by the LMS, freeing you from developing formulas and creating your own reports. In fact, you’re likely to get far more insight from the reports and metrics that are standard with most hosted and cloud-based services than you’d ever be able to pull from Excel. And the best part – all of this comes with the ability to host and deploy the training.

Of course, a hosted LMS solution isn’t the panacea to all of your workload challenges. You may not be able to customize the functionality of the LMS, and depending on what service you choose, you may or may not be able to manage your classroom learning with the service. Then, of course, there’s the big elephant in the room, the cost. Reconciling the budget when you think you can manage with the software you already have in house may seem difficult, especially for small to mid-size companies. However, when you factor in the time spent by managing all the tasks manually, the cost may not seem so overwhelming.

What About the Budget?

A number of cost-effective options are available. For example, our PharmaCertify Access™ LMS offers an affordable way for small to mid-size (and even larger) clients to host and track online training, whether it’s developed by us, another vendor, or in-house by our client.

Looking back on that Excel experience, I regret not giving more than a fleeting thought to using a hosted LMS, even though I only had a few hundred learners to manage. I’m sure an LMS would have provided better insight into the impact the training had on the audience, and would have allowed me to dedicate more time and resources to building an even better compliance training curriculum.

Thanks for reading, and stay compliant!

Lauren Barnett
Compliance Content Specialist
PharmaCertify™ by NXLevel Solution

 

 

 

Compliance News in Review, July 14, 2016

The Serious Fraud Office has its second application for a DPA approved, CMS solicits feedback, and experts are dismissed from an advisory panel due to perceived conflicts.

It’s hot, it’s humid, and the editorial staff at the New Jersey AND Georgia offices of the Compliance News in Review is already desperately seeking safety from the sun’s intense rays. The dog days of summer have arrived with gusto. If you’re looking for a good reason to spend a few more minutes in the comfortable confines of an air conditioned office or home, we suggest a deep dive into the cool waters of this edition of the CNIR, and all of the compliance news fit to blog.

Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) seem to be no sweat for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The agency has had its second application for a DPA approved in a case that involves violations of the UK Bribery Act. The company involved agreed to pay $8.48 million in fines and disgorgement. It must also report annually on its third-party intermediary transactions and compliance programs, and continue to cooperate with the SFO. The DPA remains in effect until 2020, but it may be terminated in 2018 if the company meets its financial obligations by then.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is basking in the Sunshine these days. In the proposed 2017 Physician Fee schedule, the agency solicited feedback for a number of questions related to the Open Payments program. The questions cover record retention, issues related to teaching hospitals, and the nature of payment categorization. Of particular note, the agency is seeking feedback about the benefits of pre-vetting payments with covered recipients and issues related to uploading data to Open Payments.

In an indication that their relationships with industry were a little too hot to handle, several experts have been removed from a panel that is responsible for advising the FDA about painkillers. The panel was created by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, a larger advisory group to the FDA. The removal of the panel members appears to have been spurred by a letter Senator Ron Wyden sent to the Academy of Medicine complaining that some panelists had received support (in the form of grants) from pharmaceutical companies. One panelist, Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson, says the support in question did not go to her directly, it went to the university where she is on staff, and was in the form of unrestricted grants so the pharmaceutical companies never had input on how the money was used. Another of the dismissed panelists, Dr. Gregory Terman, says he was removed because the nonprofit group he heads received funding from several pharmaceutical companies. Terman says his association with the nonprofit was well known, and he has gone out of his way to avoid conflicts of interest.

The last story serves as a reminder that much of the data regarding the relationship between healthcare professionals and the industry is presented with little context as to the nature and reasons for the payments. HCPs are understandably sensitive about receiving certain transfers of value, and they have questions about how those TOVs are disclosed. Your transparency training should remind learners that they need to be sensitive about these concerns, and educate them on the proper protocol for addressing HCP questions about data.

With that, we close this mid-summer edition of the Compliance News in Review. Stay compliant and stay cool.

The Right Stuff: Compliance Training in Preparation for Your Company’s First Product Launch

A first product launch is an exciting and overwhelming time for any life sciences company. So much to do, and what seems like so little time to do it – especially if you are a compliance department of one or two people. As employees are brought on board in support of the launch, planning and implementing an initial compliance training curriculum is a critical task. You need to cover all the essential bases and topics, and direct the training to the appropriate audiences so individuals aren’t burdened and distracted by messages and information that may not be applicable to their job duties.

With that in mind, the team at PharmaCertify™ has compiled a list of suggested topics and audiences for any company working toward an initial product launch.

Topic 1: Code of Conduct
Audience: All Employees

Good code of conduct training introduces employees and external contractors to the behavioral expectations your company has established. It also provides a foundation for understanding the requirements of working in such a heavily-regulated environment. We could fill an entire blog entry with instructional tips for building effective code training, but for now, we’ll make this one suggestion – make it more meaningful with scenarios that demonstrate how the concepts are manifested in their daily activities. Learners need to relate to the information being presented in order for it to stick.

If your company has not yet developed a code of conduct, see topic two.

Topic 2: Overview of Healthcare Compliance
Audience: All Employees

All employees must be aware of the laws, regulations, and guidance documents related to working for a pharmaceutical or medical device company. If your company doesn’t have a code of conduct, or the code doesn’t include basic information about the laws affecting the industry, a compliance overview course is especially necessary to communicate the concepts they need to know. If you do have a code of conduct, consider the idea of narrowing the audience to the commercial, medical affairs, regulatory, and communications groups.

Topic 3: Interactions with Healthcare Professionals
Audience: Sales, Marketing, Medical Affairs, and Customer-Facing Regulatory

Employees whose job responsibilities involve interacting with healthcare professionals (HCPs) on some level need training to ensure those interactions are in compliance with laws, regulations, and company policy. The training should include topics such as the rules associated with providing gifts and meals; the use of HCP consultants; proper conduct during speaker programs and advisory boards, and interactions at medical congresses or other scientific meetings.

Topic 4: Good Product Promotion
Audience: Sales and Marketing

Sales and marketing teams need detailed training regarding the regulations that govern prescription drug and device promotion. Focus your promotional training on how the regulations affect both verbal and written promotional statements. It should include topics such as what constitutes promotional statements versus medical information; what is a proper promotional statement (i.e., accurate, balanced, and truthful); FDA guidance on dissemination of reprints; and the use of social media.

Topic 5: PDMA and Drug Sample Management
Audience: Field Sales

If samples are going to be a component of the product program, training regarding the requirements of the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA) is needed before the sales representatives receive any of the samples for distribution. The training should be twofold though and include information about inventory management, and your company’s sample documentation processes – a topic just as important for medical device companies as well.

Topic 6: HIPAA
Audience: Sales, Medical Affairs, and Any Group Interacting with Patients or Handling Patient Information

The protection of patients’ personal information is a hot button issue, so you need to ensure those who handle, or who may be exposed to that information, are aware of their responsibilities regarding confidentiality. In addition, credentialing requirements at hospitals and other facilities now require anyone doing business in those facilities to be trained on the requirements of HIPAA and the protection of personal health information. In fact, if your sales representatives are going to be selling in a hospital environment, you will want to add Bloodborne Pathogens and Aseptic Technique training to their curriculum as well, but we will save that for our blog entry on the rise of credentialing and its requirements.

More Information

While the above list of topics constitutes a strong compliance training foundation for any company moving toward its first product launch, the topics and audiences may need to be tweaked based on your particular product and product indication.

The PharmaCertify™ team of compliance subject matter experts and instructional designers are here to help and we are making information available to you. To see an expanded list of the suggested content for each of the topics listed above, contact Sean Murphy, Product and Marking Manager at smurphy@nxlevelsolutions.com, or 609-483-6876.

Thanks for reading and stay compliant!

Lauren Barnett, Compliance Content Specialist, PharmaCertify™ by NXLevel Solutions

News in Review, June 15, 2016

Federal investigators subpoena information related to charitable organizations from three companies, Congress proposes an amendment to the FDCA, the head of the FDA speaks on off-label information, and New Hampshire’s Attorney General targets the manufacturer of a popular painkiller.

The temperatures are rising well past 70 degrees Fahrenheit and that can only mean one thing…time to hit the beach! Pack up the station wagon, minivan, or whatever mode of transportation best accommodates your gear and head to the sand and surf for some fun and relief from the heat! Of course, the standard precautions and warnings are in order: use plenty of sunscreen; mind the flags regarding ocean conditions; and above all, be wary of teens resembling Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello bursting into fits of random dancing and singing (now there’s a dated reference for you). Of course, you’ll need plenty of reading material before you drift off into a coconut oil scented daydream. So after you finish the latest from Mary Higgins Clarke or that true crime tome, please enjoy the next best beach read…this edition of the Compliance New in Review.

The waves of compliance just got slightly chopping for a trio of drug manufacturers. Three companies, Gilead, Jazz and Biogen, received subpoenas from federal investigators for information related to their relationships with charitable organizations that help patients with medication costs. Charities receiving support from industry companies claim those companies have no say or influence on which patients they help or what drugs are covered. The government’s concern centers on whether the contributions are essentially illegal kickbacks.

Oh sunny day – a panel of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee proposed an amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act that would allow companies more leeway in sharing truthful off-label information. The proposed amendment would limit the definition of intended use to the manufacturer’s “objective intent,” and allow for the dissemination of materials for scientific exchange, if the information in the materials is backed by scientific evidence. The panel expressed concern about the need for doctors to be kept abreast of the latest medical information, and frustration at the lack of movement by the FDA on guidance related to the dissemination of off-label information.

The head of the FDA also rode the off-label promotion wave when he spoke at the BIO International Convention. In his remarks, Robert Califf noted that supportable information worth sharing should be included on the product’s label, and he questioned why companies would not include useful information on the label or in the prescribing information. Califf also encouraged the industry to embrace social media, saying, “the best way to develop products in the future is likely going to involve a lot of people with diseases to have a handle on what their needs are, what their expectations are, and what their risk tolerance may be.”

As expected, Vermont was first in the water with a law requiring transparency of drug pricing. State officials will identify 15 drugs for which they want information about the reasons for price increases. The manufacturers of those drugs will have to submit information to justify the price increases.

New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has filed suit against Purdue over the company’s refusal to provide documents related to the marketing of OxyContin. The AG’s office claims the company is providing HCPs with misleading information regarding the product. The suit claims the company touts the drug lasts for 12 hours, and it also does not appropriately address end-of-dose failure. The AG also claims the company downplays the risks associated with addiction. Purdue says it is more than willing to cooperate with the investigation, provided the AG’s office does not share any documentation with private attorneys. The company believes a financial conflict of interest exists with the firm retained to assist in the investigation, and it should not be compelled to turn over information while a court case is pending.

A report from Reuters questions the independence of firms hired by companies under a CIA to serve as an Independent Review Organization (IRO). Unlike other agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services does not prohibit companies under a CIA from hiring an IRO with which they have an existing relationship. Critics claim those arrangements represent a conflict of interest. A representative of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) said she has not witnessed any issues with these arrangements. Spokespersons for various industry companies said they disclose all their business relationships to the OIG in advance.

The seas have also been choppy for Salix Pharmaceuticals recently. The company agreed to pay $54 million to settle allegations it provided kickbacks to physicians for prescribing its products. According to the DOJ, the company admitted to paying doctors to be speakers for the company as an inducement for prescribing its products. The government claims the programs at which the doctors spoke were largely social in nature and provided little or no information related to a product. In addition to resolving the federal case, the settlement will resolve several related state fraud cases.

That’s all for this edition of the News in Review. Until next time, we wish you safe sailing and calm compliance waters!

Compliance News in Review, October 14, 2015

A survey of physicians in the UK reveals negative opinions of the pharmaceutical industry, another pharmaceutical company settles kickback allegations with the DOJ, BMS enters into an FCPA settlement, and new legislation aimed at adding to industry reporting requirements is introduced in the Senate.

The boys of summer are singing their swan song. The MLB playoffs have begun! If your team is in the hunt, congratulations, but unless you’re pulling for the Cubs, getting too excited is useless. Robert Zemeckis says the Cubs will take it all, via Back to the Future 2 of course. There’s just one problem though, Miami won’t be the Cubs opponent, as predicted by the film, but hey when one predicts the future, there are bound to be just few hiccups. While we wait to test the accuracy of the director’s clairvoyance, let’s take look at the more recent past, with this edition of the Compliance News in Review.

First up to the plate are a group of physicians who are unhappy with the pharmaceutical industry. A recent survey of physicians in the UK found that almost half of the respondents had a negative opinion of the pharmaceutical industry. The primary reason was the belief the industry focused too much on sales and marketing. Other reasons included the lack of understanding of physician needs and budgetary pressures. The negative view is leading to increased resistance to face-to-face meetings with sales representatives. Ironically, the survey showed physicians who did meet with sales representatives were less likely to have a negative opinion of the industry.

After a meeting on the mound with the DOJ, PharMerica has agreed to pay $9.25 million to resolve kickback allegations. According to the DOJ, the company, which provides pharmacy services to nursing homes, received and solicited kickbacks from Abbott Laboratories in exchange for promoting the use of the drug Depakote for nursing home patients.

After some allegedly foul behavior in China, BMS has entered into a $14 million settlement with the SEC to resolve FCPA charges. The SEC alleged that BMS China sales representatives bribed doctors and then inaccurately recorded the bribes as a business expenses. The SEC claims BMS failed to respond to bribery red flags, and failed to investigate employee claims that fake invoices were being created to hide the bribes.

Industry and physician groups are not happy about a proposal by CMS to include Open Payments data on the Physician Compare website. In July, CMS sought comments on a proposal to include Open Payments data on the Physician Compare website. AdvaMed and BIO both pointing out that the payments would be presented without proper context. PhRMA said that CMS should focus on improving how the data is presented on the Open Payments website before sharing it on another website. The AMA expressed similar sentiments, saying it was opposed to the sharing of data that physicians haven’t validated as accurate, and pointed out there was still much work to be done in this area on the Open Payments website.

Team Sunshine Act is back in the game. Senators Grassley and Blumenthal introduced legislation that will require drug and device manufacturers to report payments and transfers of value to mid-level practitioners. The legislation is called the Provider Payments Sunshine Act, and if passed, would go into effect in 2017. Senator Grassley said the law closes a void in the current requirements, and it would provide a complete picture of the payments provided to healthcare providers. Senator Blumenthal said all providers need to be “held accountable,” and that this level of disclosure is necessary “in today’s world.”

Transparency continues to be a hot topic in the industry, both in the US and abroad. We’ll be watching to see if the law proposed by Senators Grassley and Blumenthal makes it out of the Senate, or if more states take up the initiative to pass laws requiring the reporting of payments to mid-level practitioners.

The evolving nature of transparency laws and requirements requires pharmaceutical and medical device companies to actively train and communicate with employees about what’s expected. Effective training is needed to ensure compliance with the laws and requirements, and, as importantly, to work toward clearer communications between sales representatives and the healthcare providers whose information will be disclosed.

Have a great week everyone!

Compliance News in Review, June 29, 2015

The universe has spoken – summer is officially here. (If you’re living in a part of the country that is in the midst of a heatwave, I’m sure you’re thinking “never mind what the calendar says, summer has been here for two weeks!”) Now that we’ve crossed the solstice for another year, let’s take a look back at how spring ended, in this issue of the Compliance News in Review.

PetroTiger escaped the heat of an FCPA prosecution. In a highly unusual move, the DOJ announced it would not charge the oil company with violating the FCPA. Three company executives have already pled guilty to the same charges, and typically charges against the company follow. In this case, the DOJ decided otherwise, saying PetroTiger had fully cooperated with the investigation.

The Sunshine Act is never far from the minds of physicians, no matter the season. 100 physician organizations sent a letter to Representatives Richard Michael Burgess and Peter DeFazio expressing support for a bill that would exempt payments for CME and educational materials from the Sunshine Act. The Representatives introduced the bill in an effort to correct the “unintended consequence of over-burdensome reporting requirements that made access to educational materials for physicians difficult to obtain.” The physician groups claim that the dissemination of medical education materials has already slowed as a result of the law.

The sun has set on an off-label marketing case for a former Merck company. The company settled with the government for $5.9 million in an illegal marketing case involving its former Inspire Pharmaceuticals unit. According to prosecutors, Inspire claimed its pink eye drug was effective for treating blepharitis, a condition for which the drug was not approved. According to the government, the promotion of the drug for the off-label use led to false claims being paid by government healthcare programs. Merck claims the activity occurred before it acquired the company. Inspire was sold to Akorn in 2013.

FDA officials shed some light on advertising and promotion enforcement at the 2015 Develop Innovate Advance conference. Deborah Wolf of the Division of Premarketing and Labeling Compliance discussed several promotional issues surrounding devices, including the risk of physicians promoting devices for unapproved uses.

Tom Abrams of the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion said the most common areas of enforcement for his office involved unsubstantiated superiority claims; overstatement of efficacy; and omission and minimization of risk information. Lisa Stockbridge of the CEBR’s Advertising and Labeling branch said that biologics faced many of the same issues as prescription drugs. She referenced an untitled letter sent to a company for claims made by the company’s CEO in a video interview posted on the company website, which included unsubstantiated claims about one of its products.

Obviously, product promotion remains a hot topic, and with good reason. As we continue to see in the news, off-label promotion violates the FDCA and implicates the False Claims Act, and can result in pretty hefty penalties. However, training needs to go beyond on-label promotion, and cover the topics referenced in the stories above. Misleading statements, false efficacy claims, and omission of risk lead to untitled letters from the FDA, and as seen in the 2014 Shire case, can be used by the DOJ in cases against manufacturers.

All facets of promotional speech need to be covered in your compliance training, especially since the FDA has essentially deputized healthcare professionals to be on the lookout for promotional speech missteps through their Bad Ad program. More and more eyes are focused on product promotion, so making sure everyone responsible for making promotional statements, in any form, is aware of the requirements, is more critical than ever.

That’s the news for this edition. Stay cool and have a great week everyone!

Week in Review, April 21, 2015

CMS tries to clarify the Open Payments review and dispute process, GSK considers changing its compensation program, and a Florida pharmaceutical manufacturing company is charges with selling unapproved products.

April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes. Well if you live in the southeast or northeast corner of the country, it will apparently be an extra flowery May. Rain, rain and more rain has fallen over a good chunk of the country. While that rain is certainly a good thing, the accompanying flooding isn’t. Luckily, sunny weather is on the way according to the pundits and folks can dry out. As we wait for those flowers dry out enough to bloom, we’ll rain some compliance information down on you in this week’s Compliance News in Review.

The Sunshine is back out over the medical community, but the mood is a little gloomy. CMS held a conference call for reportable recipients under the Sunshine Act to discuss the Open Payments review and dispute process. CMS reiterated its stance, that it will not intervene in disputes, but will be monitoring the process. The agency is particularly interested in the number of disputes that are initiated and how many remain unresolved. Reportable recipients expressed frustration that there was not enough context or consistency among manufacturers in how payments are classified under the “nature of payment.” This makes it difficult for reportable recipients to determine whether a payment is correct. CMS said input from all parties would be required before any changes are made.

The winds of change are blowing for GSK and its sales rep compensation structure…again. A task force has been put in place to examine how to simplify the company’s “Patient First” program. The current program establishes bonuses on factors such as product knowledge and understanding the needs of patients and doctors, rather than prescription numbers. A GSK spokesperson says the company remains committed to their commercial model, and while the company has looked for ways to simplify the program in other countries, the fundamentals of the program remain the same.

There’s been no singing in the rain for Florida based Stratus Pharmaceuticals. The distributor had $1.5 million in unapproved drugs seized by U.S. Marshals. The confiscation of the drugs came at the request of the FDA and U.S. Attorney for the Southern Florida District. According to the FDA, Stratus was marketing and distributing a number of unapproved drugs, including an antibiotic skin cleanser, a topical cream to treat psoriasis and eczema, and a topical ointment for treating wounds. The drugs were manufactured by Sonar Products of New Jersey.

With that, we bring this rain-soaked edition of the News in Review to a close. Remember, if the winds of change are long overdue for your compliance training curriculum, the PharmaCertify™ suite of customizable compliance solutions offers the up-to-date training where your learners need it most – in the field and at their fingertips.

Have a safe (and dry) week everyone!