The Often-Feared Issues
of Compliance & Regulation

16th July 2018

With global trends showing an increase in world population at 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 by 2050, according to the newest UN figures, such developments offer some real opportunities as well as challenges to the association market.

Rising living standards and fewer people living in absolute poverty offer unique opportunities for associations to innovate and work to educate these emerging markets with bespoke programmes, benefits, international professional standards and engage in knowledge transfer, certifications, networking to name but a few possibilities. In particular, associations will be faced with the challenge to a) identify growth markets, b) determine which business models will be best suited for maximum engagement, and c) how to fit these models to an appropriate growth strategy to foster this engagement.

Stringent rules

For a few years now, medical associations have felt the stress of diminished income through, among others, sponsorship contributions or even direct operating budget support from industry partners. Where in the first decade of the 2000s industry may have supported medical associations’ budgets with up to 60%, and sometimes more, through sponsorships, advertising and patient education, this support has come under increased scrutiny from the public eye in recent years. Most notably, abuse of anti-fraud regulations, exorbitant consultancy fees paid to practitioners and surgeons, and ‘kick backs’ from big pharma have caused more stringent rules and regulations to be applied to the healthcare industry all over the world.

What is it that modern medical associations can do to navigate the complex world of compliance rules, maintain an appropriate relationship with governments on the one side and industry on the other?

Medical practitioners list a variety of benefits they enjoy and find useful and thus attach value to continuing membership with professional bodies, such as associations nationally and internationally. These lists usually start from simply benefitting from educational and knowledge exchange programmes, continuous education credits (CME) and the opportunity to network with peers and relevant industry partners. In addition, many associations offer opportunities to publish scientific articles of high academic value in their journals, develop clinical databases for the use of their members, and engage in dialogues with governments and industry alike to represent and uphold the values of the medical profession. Some associations have even ventured into financial markets offering insurance and other products to their members. While this may read like a laundry list it shows the resilience and creativity of some professional bodies to remain at the forefront of relevance in the global association market.

Recent surveys have shown that, although a diverse range of benefits is certainly advantageous, it is but a fraction of the benefits experienced during a global summit or world congress. Practitioners feel more than ever that there is nothing as useful as meeting in person and having the chance to engage in discussions, debates and other learning activities, while having access to the newest trends in the healthcare industry. The impact of such gatherings is clearly not to be underestimated and their attractiveness to new markets still has room for deeper exploration.

Industry relations are important in this scenario of venturing out into the great wide world and industry supports large parts of congresses and activities of medical societies. Whether it is through support of patient-education (a prominent case being the relationship between the American Association of Family Practitioners AAFP and The Coca Cola Corporation on the research into obesity), advertising in medical journals, product endorsements, and/or financial support of (graduate) education programmes and awards.

Ethical engagement

While it is safe to say that industry provides large support overall to the benefit of medical associations, making significant financial contributions, criticism arises as to the potential pitfalls and trade-offs when not-for-profit organisations are being supported by for-profit entities. Even more questions arise around established norms as well as the responsibility of medical societies towards their members, patients and societies at large. Ethical concerns are at the forefront here and maintaining a neutral stance can often be a challenging balancing act.

As societies therefore look to the future and explore new ways of engaging with their environments, public affairs move to the core of a society’s life. Ethical engagement is the buzzword of future generations and in order to differentiate and free self-governance and independence from conflict of interest it is worth spending a thought or two on the creation of a set of ethics rules and/or an ethics policy. A clear outline on which activities, relationships and engagements are indeed to the benefit of a society’s stakeholders and how to address potential risks of conflict are vital to determine a society’s position vis-à-vis its interest groups. This is certainly an easier approach than trying to evaluate and handle each relationship and potential risk on a case-by-case basis.

Having a set of rules and guidelines at the ready also facilitates engaging in newly developed markets. Past mistakes can be avoided from the beginning and a society can prove its maturity and value the more developed and grounded its ethics and policy basis is in relation to the work it carries out. In fact, it opens itself to becoming a learning organisation itself and becoming a strong partner for local authorities to develop appropriate and modern standards. This, in turn, may assist industry in accessing new markets as well and adjusting their efforts towards ethical and environmentally compliant behaviour to the benefit of society.

Organisationally responsible behaviour has never been more in fashion as today and current trends show that responsible engagement needs to be deeply anchored in the values of any organisation if it is to survive. The challenges of greater interconnectedness, AI and further automation require new standards also in transparency rules. Being prepared by means of appropriate ethics rules that address the handling of conflicts of interest openly strengthens and stabilises not only continuous community engagement but also the bottom line.

This article was provided by the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, author Christoph Raudonat, Director of Associations, International Conference Services Ltd, on behalf of IAPCO President, Mathias Posch.  IAPCO represents today 117 companies comprised of over 7500 professional congress organisers, meeting planners and managers of international and national congresses, conventions and special events from 41 countries. /      

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