Key Tips for Optimizing Your Speaker Programs Training

Life sciences compliance leaders and regulators seem to agree that speaker programs are fraught with the potential for risk and compliance violations. Industry conferences feature sessions dedicated to the off-label, kickback and false claims risks of speaker programs and the trend toward transparency puts the marketing dollars data out there for anyone to review. With the public and regulatory spotlight shining brightly on speaker programs, the need for updated and effective training has grown exponentially. With that in mind, we present the following list of suggestions to keep in mind when building and deploying your speaker program training.

One training does not fit all.

From speaker evaluation and selection, through program organization and execution, different employees, with varying responsibilities, are involved with speaker programs. Those different roles and responsibilities demand different training requirements. For example, Medical Affairs personnel serve a different role at the speaker programs than their colleagues in the commercial group and in marketing. The core training should be customized with content relevant to each of the groups to make it relevant and maximize the effectiveness.

Integrate real-life situations.

Speaking of relevancy, your speaker programs training needs to extend beyond the reciting of rote concepts and policy. To make the training stick, include the situations the employees are likely to face during the programs. For the commercial team, don’t just tell them the FDA’s rules on product promotion apply to speaker programs, include knowledge checks that feature speakers veering off the approved slide deck to discuss anecdotal, unsubstantiated product claims. The same rules that govern their interactions with healthcare professionals also apply to the speaker’s conduct and in their role as program host, sales representatives need to know how to react when it happens.

The devil is in the details…expected and otherwise.

Don’t stop at the obvious when outlining the topics to be covered in your training. The exceptions can be just as problematic as the rule and should be covered in the training as well. On the attendee front for example, commercial representatives need to understand the rules for government employees from agencies like the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration, and what is acceptable for their participation.

Don’t forget the vendors.

With third-party vendors facilitating so many aspects of speaker programs, the risks extend well beyond your own employees. Vendors need to understand the regulatory environment at a high level, and be familiar with your company’s speaker program policy. Along with topics like venue selection, meal limits, and attendee requirements, make sure the training emphasizes their role in meeting transparency requirements and the importance of delivering relevant program data to the company in a timely fashion.

Make the program training continuous.

Speaker program training should not be a one and done event. Studies show that learners forget up to 80% of what they have learned quickly after the completion of the eLearning module or live training event. To raise retention levels and increase the transfer of the knowledge before and during the programs, follow the introductory learning with continuous nuggets of training. These can take the form of brief assessments, contests, and sprints focused on specific details, delivered across the learners’ timelines.

Speaker programs offer companies the opportunity to provide healthcare professionals with education and training on the safe and on-label use of their products, delivered by one of their peers. Engaging, effective and on-going training on the coordination and execution of those programs lowers the potential for risk and strengthens a company’s compliance culture.

If you are interested in learning more about the online and workshop-based speaker program training solutions available from PharmaCertify, please contact Dan O’Connor at

“Dear Connie the Compliance Training Specialist” Debuts on the PharmaCertify Blog!

Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Dear Connie the Compliance Training Specialist,” where we answers questions about timely compliance topics and delve into the best training methods to reduce the risks.  

This week: managing the potential perils of speaker programs


Dear Connie,

I am a compliance manager for a small pharmaceutical company in the Northeast. I am concerned that our new sales representatives may assume that they don’t need to worry about the details on speaker programs since an outside vendor manages them for us. We touch on speaker programs in the initial training all representatives take, but I am not sure we emphasized their responsibilities enough. Am I crazy to be concerned?


Concerned in Connecticut


Dear Concerned,

First, you are not crazy and I understand your concern. Speaker programs are a hotbed for potential compliance risks. It has been my experience that if you roll out additional training, like microlearning, assessments, and contests continuously to the reps, you’ll significantly reduce the risk around speaker programs.

Here are just a few topics to keep top-of-mind for the reps, and cover in the continuous training, even when an outside vendor is managing the program for you.

Attending to Attendees Concerns

On-going training needs to emphasize the finer details involving attendance. Representatives need to know that transparency laws require attendance to be documented, and it also helps the company evaluate the program. Whether a meal is offered or not, all attendees must sign-in. Reps need to remember no-shows and those who refuse a meal must be documented.

Speaker programs typically have a minimum required number of attendees. If the RSVPs fall short of that number, the program should be cancelled. Verbal commitments do not count.

Off-label Questions

Off-label questions asked during the presentation are another area of concern. If your company allows speakers to answer off-label questions (not all companies do), the speaker needs to make attendees aware that the question is in reference to an off-label use, and answer only the question that is asked. If that doesn’t happen, the sales representative must interrupt the speaker. Otherwise, the company can be accused of promoting the product for the off-label use. This is a great topic for role-playing during live training.

In addition, physician speakers represent the company. The programs are promotional in nature, so representatives must follow FDA regulations and speakers must follow the approved program. They may not proactively share their experience involving unapproved uses of products.

Speaker Requirements and Issues

I remember one case when a speaker unavoidably arrived late due to traffic and he suggested that he skip several slides to catch up on the time. Make sure the representative knows to stand firm on this. All slides must be delivered.

Another time, the representative realized, after the presentation started, that the speaker added his own slides to the deck. Representatives need to be trained to not panic and cause a disruption, but make note of the incident and notify a manager and the compliance department about the incident. Representatives should remind speakers that in the future, only the approved slides may be used.

Speakers sometimes ask if they can bring additional material about the topic being discussed, to hand out to the attendees. Representatives need to be trained to always let the speaker know that all materials must be approved by their company in advance of the program – whether the request occurs prior to the program or when the speaker arrives. Unapproved handouts are not permitted.

Thank you for a great question!

Connie the Compliance Training Specialist

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, or 609-483-6876.

Thanks for reading and stay compliant!

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

The 2016 Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress: a Preview

On April 26 and 27, compliance professionals and government representatives will gather in Washington, D.C. for the 13th Annual Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress. As usual, the conference offers a cornucopia of sessions and workshops focused on important compliance topics. There is plenty to see and learn, but here are the topics that have piqued our interests:

Day One General Session: FMV Considerations and Emerging Compliance Risk – In this age of transparency, FMV is a hot topic for life science companies and healthcare providers alike. This session, along with the breakout sessions on the same topic, offer a great opportunity to identify emerging risks related to FMV, and learn best practices from industry colleagues.

Day One General Session: EFPIA Initiatives for 2016 and Beyond — Charting the Course for Global Transparency – EFPIA members have completed their first year of data collection to comply with the Disclosure Code. We’re hoping to hear about the early challenges companies are facing and EFPIA’s plans for the future of its transparency initiative.

Day One Track: Product Promotional Compliance – In particular, we are interested in two sessions:

Social Media — New Challenges and Opportunities: While social media presents a unique set of challenges, its affect on life sciences marketing and compliance has to be taken into consideration.

Speaker Programs and Medical Roundtables — Environment and Areas of Risk: In this era of increasing scrutiny, we’re specifically interested in hearing about the emerging risks surrounding roundtables and the strategies for mitigating those risks.

Day One Workshop: Analyze FCPA Updates and Identify Areas of High-Risk to Mitigate Non-Compliance, paired with the Day Two General Session FBI address, International Corruption Squads – the FCPA and Beyond – At the end of 2015, the DOJ announced that it planned to hire 10 additional attorneys for its Fraud Division FCPA Unit. Also, the Serious Fraud Office entered into its first corporate Deferred Prosecution Agreement for violation of the U.K. Bribery Act last year. Enforcement of anti-corruption laws continues to be a priority for the U.S. and governments abroad. Learning about the emerging risk areas, and how various agencies cooperate in enforcement, is key to ensuring that your anti-corruption program is covering all the right bases.

Day Two Track: Fraud, Abuse and Kickback Prevention – The scrutiny of payments to physicians is only going to increase as more entities comb through transparency data. Concern from investigators and enforcement agencies about the potential for kickbacks is growing. The discussion on anti-kickback enforcement trends, and the establishment of compensation limits will be helpful when addressing your organizational kickback risks.

Day Two Discussion Group: Focus on Pricing – Considerations for Compliance as Scrutiny Heats Up – Last year, we saw the largest settlement ($12.4M) under the OIG’s Civil Monetary Penalties Authority. The settlement was over price misreporting, and enforcement in this area isn’t about to let up. This session presents a great opportunity to learn about best practices and the challenges compliance professionals are facing regarding government pricing.

Day Two Track: Compliance Program Structure and Effectiveness – Engage the Organization to Promote Ethics within Compliance

Okay, we may be a bit biased on this one, since Peter Sandford from NXLevel Solutions is one of the presenters, but as your training audience evolves, so should your compliance training. As millennials bring a new sense of energy and expectations to the industry, implementing modern and innovative learning strategies is more important than ever. Peter and his co-presenter, Jim Massey – Vice President, Global Compliance, Enablement & Assurance, AstraZeneca, will share five key principles for integrating creative and engaging compliance training into your organization.

We invite you to stop by the NXLevel booth to see demos of our compliance-focused training solutions and to share your thoughts on the sessions. And while you’re there, don’t forget to enter our drawing to win a Bose® SoundLink® Bluetooth speaker.

Stay compliant and we’ll see you in Washington!

The 2015 Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress: A Review and Recap

The 12th Annual Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress provided an overflow crowd of rapt attendees with two days of best practices and updates on critical compliance-related topics. While the usual array of content was covered, the focus often turned to two key topics – Speaker Programs and the FCPA.

Day 1

The conference kicked off with a keynote speech from Michael Shaw, Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for GlaxoSmithKline. Shaw’s presentation was focused on the idea that instilling a culture of compliance is not enough in today’s regulatory environment. He emphasized the importance of ‘explaining the why’ behind the values, and the need to hold individuals accountable for compliance. As an example, at GSK, while Compliance is responsible for facilitating the process, Brand Directors are held accountable for managing the risk. As Shaw says, “compliance programs are important, but they’re not enough. The elements of the programs need to have traction.”

Otsuka ‘s Regina Gore Cavaliere and Brian Miller showcased their use of humor as a core tool for compliance training. Cavaliere and Miller have integrated a variety of creative elements, including a mock mini-series called The Pharm, comic books, and live talk shows, into their curriculum to keep the training fresh and appealing. Much of what was presented was indeed witty and engaging, and it showed that comedy can clearly be an effective tool when developed professionally and integrated carefully into a blended campaign.

In the Chief Compliance Officer Panel titled, Working with the Business – Ensure Compliance Adds Value to Operational Success, Jeffrey Rosenbaum from Vertex, Sujata Dayal from J&J, and Sumita Ray from Pharmacyclics, offered their perspectives on the keys to an effective program. With limited resources and time, Rosenbaum starts with his company’s business objectives while managing the issues with the highest risks. Ray agreed, saying she evaluates what risks she has to address on a daily basis, making training her first priority. As part of a large global company, Dayal begins with a formal risk assessment and conducts testing on a regular basis to ensure that mitigation is working. Rosenbaum also emphasized the importance of recruiting allies in the company when resources are stretched, as with Sunshine Act reporting, while Ray echoed Michael Shaw’s points about the importance of holding businesses accountable for their actions and results.

The presentations shifted to a governmental and regulator’s perspective with Doug Brown from CMS updating the audience on the state of Open Payments, a panel of US Attorneys addressing trends and top priorities in healthcare enforcement, and Andrew Ceresney, Director of Enforcement at the SEC covering disclosure issues relevant to the pharmaceutical industry.

What stood out during the enforcement panel was the increased amount of cases the regulators are seeing involving small to mid-size companies. Greg Shapiro, from the District of Massachusetts added that the audience should expect to see more criminal liability with those cases. Jacob Elberg, from the District of New Jersey encouraged those who identify a problem to self-report since “it sends the right message to employees and regulators.” More than one panel member delved into the risks of Speaker Programs, with Shapiro calling them “areas prone for abuse” and William Killian from Tennessee reminding the audience that Speaker Programs must not be tied to any promotion of business.

Ceresney covered the FCPA and the risks particular to the pharmaceutical industry. According to Ceresney, the SEC is focusing on three enforcement areas: pay to prescribe, pay to get on formularies, and charitable contributions. He emphasized the need for risk assessments and training, and the need to take measures when issues are identified.

After lunch, the sessions were divided into smaller groups, and I opted to stay with the FCPA theme in the session titled, Strengthen your FCPA Compliance through Smarter Training. David Nicoli, former VP, Corporate Affairs, AstraZeneca, and a panel of vendors walked through the steps they consider to be crucial when training on the FCPA. Collaboration is key, Nicoli claimed, and during his tenure at AZ he partnered on training initiatives with key allies, such as the Heads of Human Resources and Social Responsibility, who truly understand the work environment. The panel stressed the need for short, quick hits in FCPA training, and the fact that bad decisions make for good stories that stick in learners’ minds.

After the FCPA session, I jumped into the track dedicated to Product Promotional Compliance. Paul Silver from Huron presented statistics from a recent industry survey on company interactions with HCPs. For example, 86% of companies reimburse for HCP travel time and 1/3 of the companies surveyed have a limit on hotel expenses. Overall, the statistics presented a strong baseline for how the industry handles HCP travel time and I highly recommend the data for those interested in knowing what their peers are doing.

The session on overseeing the relationships between Sales, MSLs, and Managed Care Reps, was highlighted by one powerful statement from Kevin Stark, Director of GHH Compliance, at Merck, which could be considered a compelling theme for the entire conference, build a culture where it’s okay for people to admit when they made a mistake.”

Day 2

The second day opened with Tom Abrams of the FDA and his annual update on enforcement trends at the Office of Prescription Drug Marketing. In the area of policy and guidance development, OPDP has released six draft documents since January 2014, and three draft guidance documents on social media.

Abrams’ agency continues to allocate resources and priorities based on potential threats to public health. The most common violations over the past year were related to omission and minimization of risks, and unsubstantiated superiority claims.

Day 2’s enforcement panel, titled, A View from the Outside —Mitigate Risk and Prepare for the Future featured a panel of defense attorneys well-versed in the areas of risk for small and large pharmaceutical companies. Scott Lieberman of Loeb and Loeb stressed the need for sales representatives to know exactly how to handle off-label questions when dealing with HCPs. Matthew O’Connor, of Covington & Burling warned smaller companies to allocate enough resources to monitoring, an area often neglected. When asked about the relationship between Compliance and Legal, Allison Shuren from Arnold & Porter said Compliance should be the “boots on the ground, moving issues up the food chain,” and John Richter, from King & Spalding, noted that Compliance should be ‘setting the policy and evaluating the balance between costs and risks.’

I was particularly interested in the Life After a CIA — Impact on Internal Team Structures and Resource Allocation panel, so I attended the breakout session: Compliance Program Structure and Effectiveness.

Sujata Dayal, from J&J, stressed the need to continue the conversation between the businesses and Compliance but that dialogue needs to change as the role of the business shifts from one in which the businesses mandates company priorities to one in which they influence actions and decisions. Gregory Beeman, from Eli Lilly, said the first step was to see what can be streamlined and continued post-CIA. In other words, what was under OIG oversight that could be eliminated now that the CIA has expired?

In Successful Promotional Programs — How to Use Data Analysis & Market Research to Drive Compliant, Effective Results, Mark Dizon from Actelion, and David Gilman from Huron led a spirited discussion on the use of data and analytics to assess risks and results of Speaker Programs. The idea of whether Speaker Programs should be evaluated against Return on Investment was of particular interest as audience members and the panel members debated the merits and risks associated with acknowledgement of the ROI.

The final session I attended was focused on the challenges faced by small to mid-size businesses as they struggle to allocate compliance resources. The panel, consisting of Timothy Ayers of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, Katrina Church of Merz North America, Jeff Rosenbaum from Vertex, Sarah Whipple from Aegerion, and Greg Moss from Kadmon, offered a diverse set of best practices based on their experiences with limited resources and time. The perspective offered by those who are literally ‘departments of one,’ and those, like Church from Merz, whose departments are growing rapidly, had enough content, suggestions, and tips to fill a conference unto itself. As one example, the panel and audience debated the benefits and challenges of live training versus eLearning. While live training offers the opportunity to work face-to-face with each trainee, which is easily achieved in very small companies, Church was quick to point out that as Merz grew, a shift to more eLearning, with its streamlined tracking, became a necessity. And, like their colleagues from larger companies, these participants emphasized the need to include the Board of Directors and the C-Suite in the importance of compliance training; and in getting buy-in at all levels of the company.

To sum up, the details brought forth over two days by many well thought out presentations and panel sessions in this year’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress offered veteran attendees and new comers alike a wealth of practical and impactful information, making attendance not only a good idea, but crucially important to staying abreast of new developments and best practices in life sciences compliance.