Sunshine Act 101: Accommodating Medical Meetings

Planners and hotel staff can sometimes speak different languages. Understanding what each side needs from the other can be challenging, from the use of varying industry acronyms to different internal practices accepted by each company. And the enactment of the Sunshine Act made the management of medical meetings more difficult. “I wish there was a course called Sunshine Act 101,” says Derek Minster, CMP, senior group sales manager at Sofitel New York. “Each client comes with different restrictions.” The purpose of the Sunshine Act is to create full disclosure of payments to physicians by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. Planners must track spend greater than $10 on a per-person, per-meeting basis and also on an annual aggregate if these payments add up to more than $100. However, this doesn’t mean pharmaceutical and medical device companies cannot spend more than these amounts. Each company’s internal budget will dictate how much it can or will spend; but planners must make sure they report the spend according to the Sunshine Act’s guidelines. That’s where confusion can arise. Hotel sales and conference services managers might have an understanding of how pharmaceutical company A manages its internal reporting, yet this could be vastly different from how medical device company B does it. For this reason, many hotels have created special packages for medical meetings to better assist them in adhering to financial restrictions. Sofitel New York’s general menus are a la carte or priced per person, per meal, but the hotel’s pharmaceutical package is priced per day and includes breakfast with a hot item, lunch and two breaks. “This is a starting point,” Minster says. “I then say, ‘Tell us what you need and what you can afford,’ and we customize the menus from there. Danielle Baruch, key account director of pharmaceutical markets at InterContinental Hotels Group, says most IHG hotels customize menus based on the client’s caps. “Since each company makes their own guidelines, it’s difficult to come up with one set menu,” says Baruch. “This allows us to adhere to the guidelines and develop the best possible options for each individual meeting.” But while the food and beverage discounts hotels offer have may not have changed and planners’ caps have not gone up, the cost of food has. This adds to the challenge of meeting planners’ budgets while ensuring the hotel balances its own costs. According to Baruch and Ingrid Quimby-High, director of groups and meeting worldwide sales for IHG, the company has developed a global strategy for small-to-mid-sized pharmaceutical meetings. “This solution assists key pharmaceutical clients with the ongoing challenges in their highly regulated and dynamic environment,” says Quimby-High. “The core tenets of the strategy aim to streamline and simplify the process from sourcing to checkout. They include a dedicated pharmaceutical educational portal for IHG hotels worldwide, master services agreements, per-person priced meeting packages and an identified group of ‘expert’ hotels.” Baruch and Quimby-High explain that hotel salespeople at IHG have completed a rigorous curriculum on the needs of pharmaceutical clients and regulations around the world. Additionally, IHG commits to offering customized pricing for key clients and itemized billing as needed to support various global industry regulations such as the Sunshine Act. Minster suggests planners work with their hotel salesperson to determine billing requirements during the contract stage. “Don’t wait. Be up-front with what you have to work with,” Minster says. “Also, set up the master account in the beginning. It’s more difficult for the hotel to separate accounts when the program is over.” Julio Marrero, national sales manager for Loews Philadelphia Hotel, says the most common challenges in meeting the needs of a pharmaceutical program are the company’s noncompete clauses with other pharmaceutical companies and being able to accommodate the needs of the agreement based on the meeting’s size. “A pharma meeting with 20 rooms on peak may have an extensive noncompete clause that hotels will not be able to accept [because the revenue will not meet the hotel’s budget],” says Marrero. “Large groups typically have more opportunity to incorporate noncompete clauses in Loews’ contracts and addenda.” The request to incorporate noncompete clauses stems from the fact that pharmaceutical companies are discussing sensitive topics at their meetings. Marrero’s solution is to put groups on separate meeting floors. “Our hotel has 33 floors and meeting space on many different floors,” says Marrero. “We have the opportunity to place a pharma meeting on a floor that is not on the same floor as a competing pharma. Most of the time, they never interact at all. If a group is flexible with this, most hotels will offer incentives for cooperation.” Another challenge for Marrero is meeting the needs of a pharmaceutical meeting’s breakout room requirements. “Many of the pharma groups I deal with have, on average, between 10 and 15 breakout rooms,” Marrero says. “It can get tricky when that much space is needed. We like to see if they are flexible with their agendas and reuse the rooms they already have for some breakout rooms, or possibly use guest rooms or suites based on the size of the breakout.” The solution to all of these unique challenges may be advanced communication. Medical meeting planners who are up-front about their budgetary limitations and flexible with their space-to-rooms ratio will find that hotels can more easily work within their requirements.