At W.L. Gore we took the decision to review our educational strategy well before the recommendation of the EDMA and Eucomed Boards to phase-out direct sponsorship of Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) to third party organised educational events was announced. We did this as our business leaders were getting increasingly concerned about the complexities of doing business across regions worldwide and being aware of all the issues that could arise. In our company, fairness is one of the core values, and we consider fairness to our customers as part of our ethos.
Discussions around medical education were originally business led, with representatives from all parts of the business of our company contributing. Then compliance and legal professionals joined the conversation. As we talked and talked, we realised we had to answer the question – why do we support the medical education of Healthcare Professionals and for what reason? This helped us come up with a new, refocused educational strategy that took into account the changing environment and the modern world in which we operate. As a result we did reconfirm our intention to provide education, but we reviewed the best and most efficient way in which this could be done.
The debate led us to introduce a shift from direct sponsoring of HCPs to third party organised educational events to grants. Was this tough? Yes, particularly as in some areas W.L. Gore was the first to introduce this concept. Both internally and externally some struggled with the concept. However with clear explanation and our conviction that this was the right way forward we started to see a change in attitude. We now find a system based on grants allows more forward planning, as we provide grants for a period of up to a year. Generally a broader group within the chosen institution may have access to the funding. In addition, institutions can plan their work in relations to grant requests.
It is important to bear in mind that this does not eliminate all risks. There is still a lot of internal review and consideration given to every request. The risks have changed, but we can see more synergies across countries. It does however still require a lot of support. The challenges are different and we are adapting.
One positive outcome is that we have had positive feedback “from the field”. Sales and clinical representatives reported that they can now focus on products and on the education for their use without having to discuss attendance at third-party congresses and all the issues that come with it.
Given this, we believe as an industry that phasing out direct sponsorship of HCPs is the way forward. This is still not a perfect solution but it does allow us to deal with some of the criticism we have faced from various groups, be it the press, regulators or public opinion in general.
We have also found that, by openly discussing this issue with congress organisers and training associations, they are more receptive to this approach. In the end, stopping direct sponsorship of HCPs to third party organised educational events is not about stopping attendance to these events.
This is why we support to new MedTech Europe Code of Business Practice. We believe that if we do not vote yes, we will see more and more country regulations imposed on us, increasing complexities in an already complex world, which may ultimately also have a negative impact on future support to independent medical education.
We believe yes is the future, and the future is now in our hands.