Seven years after the Sunshine Act first lit up the health-care industry, the legislation is having a widespread impact on medical meetings. “Physicians are scrutinizing every interaction they have with vendors,” Michael Sullivan, DES, director of client services at Vector Health — which manages pharmaceutical, medical-device, and diagnostics events — told Convene. “It’s changed the paradigm. Fewer doctors are willing to go have dinner or be seen in public with representatives from pharmaceutical companies.”
The number of dinners and in-person meetings may be shrinking, but the need for learning opportunities isn’t. In fact, as more specialty drugs enter the market, doctors need education more than ever to understand new options for their patients. Sullivan aims to help the health-care companies who work with Vector Health to provide alternative for-mats for doctors to learn — but it’s not as easy as swapping out a full dinner program for a 10-minute virtual broadcast, Sullivan said. “The industry has to create options for physicians.”
Currently, Sullivan’s team at Vector Health is working on options that blend new distribution platforms with traditional education. One digital platform — something that Sullivan calls a virtual roundtable — is now in beta testing at Vector Health. It takes some cues from a surprising model: online poker. Just as the dealer calls on everyone to play a hand in online games, an instructor in the roundtable asks each doctor in attendance to offer his or her opinion on the discussion topic. “If you’re going to make a virtual roundtable work, you have to have very intentional interactions,” Sullivan said. “The participants need to feel the pressure that they’ll get called on in class. So, you have to train the moderator to make sure that all the physicians offer their opinions.”
Creating an environment conducive to interactivity isn’t the only focus of the virtual roundtables. The first challenge is to make sure people actually show up. “If attendees respond to an invitation for dinner at a steak-house, they’re going to come,” Sullivan said.
“There’s enhanced accountability for live events, but with virtual events, a simple RSVP won’t do. It seems easier to forget about a 20-minute virtual appointment on the calendar. You have to invest extra resources to make sure that doctors will be there when the program starts.”
Despite these challenges, Sullivan is optimistic about the future of digital health-care learning options like virtual roundtables. “We’re not changing the basic principles of medical education,” Sullivan said. “We’re adapting them to the ever-changing preferences of attendees who need to share new ideas. As our clients sponsor these digital programs, it’s great to see attendees form enduring communities. And that’s a powerful thing for patients. We’re giving their physicians more avenues to have more discussions about new treatments.”