PhRMA Takes a Stance on Virtual Lunch and Learns During the Emergency Period

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We received a number of questions from pharmaceutical and medical device clients over the past several months regarding how to continue “Lunch and Learn” programs for healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With hospitals and doctors’ offices closing their doors to outside visitors in response to the pandemic, sales representatives put a pause on in-person visits. Some of these companies turned to virtual platforms, such as Zoom, to provide needed scientific and clinical information to healthcare professionals during the pandemic.

On June 30, 2020, PhRMA published a statement to provide guidance regarding the provision of information via remote delivery and ways to provide meals to healthcare professionals and their staff while presenting on a virtual platform. The statement describes the application of Section 2 of the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals (PhRMA Code) during emergency periods.1

Background

PhRMA is an association consisting of leading research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. PhRMA published the PhRMA Code to provide the principles and guardrails upon which ethical relationships with healthcare professionals may be established. With the dual aim of helping healthcare professionals manage busy schedules and allowing company representatives to provide needed scientific and clinical information about a medication, the PhRMA Code allows company representatives to present such information during the healthcare professional’s workday, including at mealtimes.  The PhRMA Code also allows an occasional meal to be offered as a business courtesy during such meetings, so long as the meeting provides scientific or educational value and the meal meets certain standards. The PhRMA Code limits the places in which a company sales representative or his or her immediate manager may provide such meals to in-office or in-hospital settings. Offering “take-out” meals or meals to be eaten without a company representative present is not appropriate.

The PhRMA Statement

According to the PhRMA statement, company policies may allow remote delivery of information by representatives to help prevent pathogen exposure. Under Section 2 of the PhRMA Code, the “presence” requirement (i.e., that meals may be offered only if a company representative is present) can be met if the company representative offers informational presentations remotely over video or audio conferencing accompanied by delivery of a modest meal to the healthcare professional and their staff, provided:

  • The representative remains virtually “present” over video or audio conference throughout the event.
  • Meals should only be provided if there is a reasonable expectation that the healthcare professional will remain present throughout the event.
    • Take-out meals and dine & dash programs where the healthcare professionals does not stay for the presentation are not appropriate.
  • Meals should otherwise comply with the provisions of Section 2 of the PhRMA Code, including that the meal:
    • be modest as judged by local standards,
    • provided in a manner that is conducive to informational communication,
    • limited to an in-office or in-hospital setting, and
    • a healthcare professional’s spouse or other guest should not be included.
  • Meals should not be provided if they are prohibited by the policies of the healthcare professional’s office or healthcare facility.
    • Companies should also consider the facility policies on utilization of contactless delivery, food handling, and limitations on meal sharing.
  • Meals should continue to be limited to in-office or in-hospital settings during the emergency period.
  • Informational presentations, without a meal provided by the representative, may be offered outside of a hospital or office setting (in-person or virtually), as long as the location of the presentation is conducive to informational communication.

Companies should remember to also review applicable federal or state laws to ensure virtual Lunch and Learns or other virtual events comply with all applicable laws. The PhRMA statement applies during any national public health emergency period as declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. § 247d), or any applicable state or local declaration of emergency that results in restricted physical access to a healthcare professional’s office.

[1] The statement can be found at the following link: https://phrma.org/-/media/Project/PhRMA/PhRMA-Org/PhRMA-Org/PDF/P-R/PhRMA-Code-Section-2.pdf.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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