In late February, Gayle Dahlman, certification director for the Convention Industry Council (CIC), sent congratulatory notes to 54 meeting professionals, to let them know they could officially add two more letters to the CMPs already at the end of their names. They were now the first ever to hold the CMP-HC designation. The HC stands for health care, and the CMPs had successfully passed a beta test for a new credentialing program that the CIC will officially launch next month. The CMP-HC identifies meeting professionals who have mastered the specialized knowledge unique to healthcare-focused meetings.
As the first CMP subspecialty to be offered, the CMP-HC “is somewhat historic,” said Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, who teaches meeting and business-event planning at Metropolitan State University in Denver. “It really is an indication of how our industry is evolving, and how much more sophisticated the practice of our profession has become.” A member of CIC’s CMP Board who was involved in the development of the CMP-HC, Krugman moderated a panel discussion called “On Target With the CIC’s New Health Care Subspecialty Certification” — with Dahlman as one of the panelists — at the second annual Global Pharmaceutical and Medical Meetings Summit, held Feb. 3-5 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. The CMP-HC was much discussed during the summit, which was attended by about 250 senior-level meeting planners and suppliers.
Now in its second year, the summit grew by about 20 percent, according to Courtney Richman, senior vice president for World Congress, which produces the event. Richman said the organizers are intentionally keeping the summit small to maximize networking and the exchange of expertise among attendees. But “the interest is there,” Richman said. “The regulations bring up a lot of concerns.”
Along with the CMP-HC, the latest developments in U.S. and international regulations affecting medical meetings were a major focus of the summit. Convene was in attendance — and here’s our report on what had people talking during sessions, at networking events, and in the hallways.
THE STORY OF THE CMP-HC
In addition to recognizing specialized expertise, the CMP-HC reinforces the fact that while a medical meeting planner can plan almost any meeting, any planner can’t necessarily plan meetings in such a highly regulated industry as health care. “It’s precisely because there are so many regulations, so many variables that come into play,” Krugman said. “Health-care planners really need to have that specialized knowledge and experience.”
For someone unfamiliar with the health-care sector, planning a medical meeting can be comparable to organizing a meeting for the first time in a foreign country, Krugman said. “If you take highly experienced planners who have never left their home country and plunk them down in another part of the world where they don’t speak the language and know nothing about local culture or business practices,” she said, “they won’t be able to do the same quality job — if at all.”
Krugman was among the meeting professionals who first suggested to CIC that a healthcare subspecialty certification program be added to the CMP. Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, CEO of St. Louis-based Meeting Compliance IQ and founder of the International Medical Meeting Professionals Association (IMMPA), initially had conceived of a health-care certification for meeting professionals as something that IMMPA might develop independently. When Krugman joined IMMPA’s certification board, she quickly realized that they were on to something big — perhaps even bigger than the relatively small, still-developing IMMPA could manage on its own.
“As we started discussing it, it was so obvious that at least half of what someone would need to know was already covered by the CMP,” Krugman said. “That seemed like reinventing the wheel. It made more sense to build on the existing foundation that had been laid so well by the CIC.” Additionally, she said, CIC’s experience with credentialing, not to mention its credibility, could accelerate the creation and adoption of a health-care certification for meeting professionals in a way that IMMPA working alone could not.
To develop the credential, CIC first worked to establish what knowledge is unique to health-care meeting planning, and what level defines mastery. For that, CIC turned to practitioners themselves — subject-matter experts who conducted analyses of their own medical-meeting jobs — then used the results to create the “CMP-HC Standards,” a set of three domains and seven sub-domains covering the scope of healthcare meeting planning. The standards require knowledge of everything from the varied sources of regulations, standards, and guidelines regulating the global health-care industry, to knowing how to incorporate laboratory requirements into the site-selection process. Once the standards were validated, a panel of 15 subject-matter experts wrote questions designed to test a candidate’s knowledge of them. Another panel of 15 subject-matter experts reviewed the questions.
Creating the questions was a “very exacting process,” Dahlman said. Because of the nature of the knowledge that would be tested by the exam, there was no one textbook or website, or even a handful of resources, where all of it could be found. Every correct answer had to be to linked to one or more reputable sources, Dahlman said, which were each listed and then compiled as a 14-page list of “recommended literature.” The sources are both very specific and extremely broad, including medical journal and industry magazine articles, legislation and agency guidelines, and association websites.
Late last year, an initial set of exam questions were beta-tested by volunteers — each of whom had to fill out an application and meet the eligibility requirements to take the test — to see how well they performed before the exam was officially launched. CIC also used the beta test to decide the passing score of the exam. This was what the 54 beta testers passed to become the first CMP-HCs.
Hard — but fair
The beta-testers, who worked under a compressed schedule at the end of 2013, were motivated by a variety of factors. Amanda Sage, CMP-HC, senior manager for meetings and conventions at the American Academy of Dermatology, wanted to take part both as a way to enhance her career by earning the credential and as a learning experience. “I like the idea of demonstrating that there is a difference between medical meetings and other meetings in terms of things that need to be considered while planning,” Sage said. “The idea of being part of shaping the certification by participating in the development was also interesting to me.”
Sage already was in “study mode,” having just completed an MBA in May 2013. “So spending the time reviewing the materials was simpler, because it was easy to make a habit of finding study time,” she said. “But it is never easy to commit a big chunk of time to something like this.”
Elizabeth Winstanley, CMP-HC, a Philadelphia-based account director at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla., was still waiting for the results of the test at the summit. The exam was hard — but fair, she said in a phone interview with Convene after she had received word she had passed. “It was a little intense,” Winstanley said. “It was quite an undertaking to tackle the test for the first time.” Winstanley was one of a group of 20 meeting professionals from across the United States who formed a telephone study group to prepare for the test. Members divided up the items on the domains and met three days a week on one big conference call, Winstanley said. Under normal circumstances, it might have been difficult to stay engaged on a long, voice-only conference call with 19 other people. But the group was “intent on paying attention and staying tuned in,” she said. “There was such a large breadth of information to go over.” The study group’s methods proved to be successful — of its 20 members, 19 passed the test, Winstanley said.
Winstanley is the first supplier to be awarded the CMP-HC — a distinction that she expects will make her a savvier, more valuable partner to medical meeting clients. It also will help her deal with clients who don’t always fully understand the regulations that their groups must operate under, she said. And she anticipates that her specialized knowledge will help her communicate the challenges of the market to hotel leadership, who aren’t well versed in nuances like food caps and FDA timelines. She sometimes walks a fine line, she said, between explaining the regulations and the risks associated with health-care meetings to hotel management and educating clients on the ramifications to the hotel.
The CMP-HC is intended in part to validate the knowledge that medical meeting planners already have accrued in their professional careers. “It is a statement of our commitment to raise the level of professionalism in the industry,” Krugman said. “It says: ‘I am aware of my value, and I am willing to invest the time, energy, and resources to advance to the next level in my profession.’”
The CMP-HC is CIC’s first subspecialty credential, but Krugman thinks it may not be the last. “As the various segments of our industry grow and become more complex, subspecialty competency will become increasingly important,” she said. “There is also the fact that, unfortunately, some practitioners of our profession aren’t getting it right. And when they don’t, we are all under a microscope. The importance of recognized professional standards is really critical, whether or not you have a specialty.”
PUBLIC REPORTING NEARS
That was clear throughout the summit, where meeting rooms buzzed with debate about complying with the growing number of global health-care regulations. Discussion revolved not just around the mechanics of regulatory compliance, but the problems of providing hospitality in an environment where the availability of resources has undergone fundamental change. Medical meeting planners are challenged to be as creative as possible with funds that, because of new laws and regulations, often are drastically reduced from what they used to be.
“It’s a whole new way of doing business,” Krugman said, “not just for planners, but also for hotels that are finding it difficut to maintain the same profit margins on these meetings as before. Everyone has to become more creative and good planner/supplier relationships are even more critical in this highly regulated atmosphere.”
One of the most talked-about topics was the upcoming deadlines for the Open Payments program, under which almost all financial interactions — including payments, gifts, and meals — between physicians and the pharmaceutical, biotech, medical-device industries, and GPOs (group purchasing organizations) will be reported on a public website. The program was established by legislation called the National Physician Payment Transparency Program: Open Payments as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The goal of Open Payments is to create more transparency for the public about financial interactions between physicians and GPOs and the pharmaceutical, medical-devices, and life-sciences industries. The public website is scheduled to be live starting in late 2014.
There are notable exemptions to Open Payments’ reporting requirements, including F&B, educational materials, and some payments that are part of accredited continuing medical education — but those guidelines aren’t simple either. The CME Coalition, whose mission is “to represent and promote the interests of CME among the nation’s policymakers,” has published a 26-page “Compliance Guide for the Sunshine Rule,” and an additional 24-page FAQ.
GENIES IN A BOTTLE
The Open Payments program is only part of the growing thicket of regulations that many medical meeting professionals must navigate. “I think of [health-care planners] like genies in bottles who serve many masters,” said Schaumann, who is the author of Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance. Their first master, she said, is the law — not just federal regulations, but state and international laws. At least seven U.S. states have enacted their own regulations, which may differ from federal requirements, and mandate more stringent reporting.
Additionally, Schaumann said, about 40 percent of the 196 countries in the world have their own compliance laws —“many of which,” Richman noted, “are also more aggressive than the Physician Payment Act in the U.S. It can be pretty intense. You may have physicians from 10 or more different countries” at your meeting, with different sets of requirements for each.
Many pharmaceutical, biologic, and device manufacturers have devised their own internal compliance policies, which may differ from policies outlined by Open Payments or state regulations, Schaumann said. Some also might operate under rigid “Corporate Integrity Agreements,” negotiated with the federal government as a result of violations of regulatory laws. And that’s something the companies’ own planners — as well as the planners of conferences that the companies’ employees attend — have to be on top of.
CODES AND MORE CODES
And finally, industry associations maintain their own codes of conduct. In the United States, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) create codes governing physician-sponsor interactions, while major global regulatory players include the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA).
The CMP-HC, which covers all of those areas, will continue to evolve as the regulations and the industry itself change, Dahlman said. As with the CMP, those who hold the credential will have to recertify every five years.
A medical meeting planner can’t hold the CMP-HP without a valid CMP credential, underscoring the fact that medical meeting planners also face challenges that have nothing to do with compliance. The summit recognized that, Richman said, and included presentations on creating attendee engagement, as well as on hybrid meetings — a topic she expects will continue to be important. “Regulations are always the No. 1 topic,” she said, “but planners also kind of roll their eyes and say, ‘We’ve talked about this way too much.’”