Physician meetings, events gain popularity as drug promotional vehicles
From FDA Advertising & Promotion Manual
Thompson Publishing Group
Table of Contents
Keys to M.D. attendance
The FDA's rigorous and controversial guidelines for industry-supported scientific and educational activities (ISSEA), which have been in place since a federal court ruling in February, do not appear to be discouraging pharmaceutical companies from increasingly using meetings and events specifically geared to physicians as a promotional mechanism. That conclusion was reached in a recent study by Scott-Levin consultants, a Newtown, PA-based subsidiary of Quintiles Transnational Corp. In fact, the use of meetings and events as promotional venues appears to be increasing.
The number of drug company-sponsored meetings and events directed toward physicians has grown from 70,000 in 1993 to 280,000 in 1999, according to the Scott-Levin study, released Sept. 13. Between 1998 and 1999 alone, the number of events held for medical doctors jumped 25%, with even higher numbers expected for 2000 as pharmaceutical companies continue to shift their promotion budgets away from traditional drug detailing and journal advertising, Scott-Levin spokeswoman Lori Sterbakov said.
Based on surveys conducted from January 2000 to June 2000, many major pharmaceutical companies have increased their spending on physician-focused events since last year. For example, Pfizer led the competition at $135.2 million in event spending—a 3.8% increase from 1999. Similarly, Glaxo Wellcome spent more than 60% ($50.7 million) on physician events than it did during the previous year, the study found.
Celebrex, Searle/Pfizer's prescription anti-inflammatory for osteoarthritis and adult rheumatoid arthritis, was the subject of most physician-focused promotional events (3,445) during the first half of this year, closely followed by Merck's competitor drug, Vioxx, featured at 3,393 events, according to the study. The cholesterol-reduction drugs Lipitor (Pfizer) and Pravachol (Bristol Myers Squibb) also were featured prominently during promotional events for physicians during the six-month period (2,284 and 2,258 events, respectively).
Keys to M.D. attendance
Physicians attended nearly half (47%) of the company-sponsored events they were invited to in 1999, the study found. Further, healthcare professionals appear more likely to accept invitations to events known to be associated with a drug company than those events not associated with a manufacturer. Forty-nine percent of invitations to events tied to a specific drug company were accepted by physicians compared to the 40% acceptance rate for events not associated with a drug manufacturer, according to the study.
The source of an invitation to a specific meeting or event also appears to influence physicians' decisions to attend. Although pharmaceutical sales representatives extended most of the event invitations to doctors (65% of all invitations), slightly less than half (47%) were accepted, the study found. Conversely, invitations made by third-party organizations, such as professional associations on behalf of manufacturers, were accepted by physicians 59% of the time.
As an enticement to physicians to attend meetings and events, pharmaceutical companies are getting creative in their approaches. The study reports that a number of companies are using celebrity autograph signings, wine tastings, mystery dinner theaters, shows, and family activities, such as Halloween hayrides and trips to the zoo, to persuade physicians to attend meetings and events where drug discussions will occur.
Event location also appears to play a role in whether or not a physician decides to attend a specific company-sponsored event, the study found. Although many (45%) of the 1999 invitations were for restaurant-based events, only 38% of physicians accepted. Hotels hosted 18% of sponsored events, but they received a 45% acceptance rate, according to the study.
Physicians also appear more inclined to attend events when held in other physicians' homes. Although these types of events only accounted for 4% of industry-sponsored events in 1999, they had the highest physician acceptance rate (87%). Offices and research facilities were used even less frequently as locations for industry events, but they garnered 70% to 80% acceptances from physicians, according to the study.
Regardless of the event's location, the focus of an event or meeting is what concerns physicians most, the study found. Seventy-four percent of doctors who attended a company-sponsored event in 1999 said that interest in the meeting topic was their primary reason for attending. Half of the physicians that were surveyed also cited convenient location, honoraria, speaker reputation, and continuing medical education (CME) credits as influential in deciding whether to attend a sponsored event.
However, slightly more than half (51%) attended meetings that did not offer CME credits compared to 44% of those who attended meetings that featured CME opportunities.
Interestingly, the study's findings come at a time of uncertainty within the pharmaceutical industry as to how the FDA is regulating sponsored events. The agency's controversial final guidance document on industry-supported scientific and educational activities and CME was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court in July 1999, but was reinstated by a federal appeals court in February.
Since then, the FDA has issued no enforcement actions for specific violations of its ISSEA/CME policies. However, the agency has said that it expects meetings and events that are controlled or substantially influenced by drug companies to meet traditional FDA advertising and labeling requirements, such as providing full disclosure and fair balance. With drug manufacturers relying more heavily on physician meetings and events as a promotional tool, it is likely that the FDA may devote more attention to this area.
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