Running successful and compliant virtual advisory boards

Virtual advisory boards

The current COVID-19 pandemic and the environmental need to reduce carbon emissions have led to an increasing demand for virtual meetings and events. At Porterhouse, we deliver scores of successful online meetings and events every year, including advisory boards. We offer advice on best practice in terms of producing content, finding the best speakers and technology for the meeting and, importantly, how to ensure that your virtual meetings are compliant.

Below are some tips on how to run a successful advisory board online without breaching any national and/or regional codes of practice.

1  Planning your virtual advisory board


Define a clear set of objectives

The key to running a successful advisory board, whether virtual or face to face, is to define a clear set of objectives at the outset and keep those in mind throughout the entire process. It is essential to set out exactly what you want to learn from the meeting and how this information will help you fulfil your business needs.

It is important to ensure that the format of the slides and materials used are suitable and versatile enough to be presented online so that they are clear and maximise engagement. Also, consider the length of the meeting, as virtual meetings should not be a full day; ideally, they should be a maximum of 2–3 hours to maintain engagement and focus the discussion on the business need.

Pre-meeting surveys may be conducted to allow for the results of these to be a focus of the meeting. Also, encouraging participants to pre-read some of the key data can be useful to maximise the time for discussion during the meeting by reducing the time spent on presentation of data.


Identify and resolve any compliance issues at the planning stage

Wherever you are in the world and whether your advisory board is online or not, your communications with healthcare professionals (HCPs) will be subject to national or regional codes of practice. Therefore, it is important to consider the content of all materials carefully.

Advisory board meetings must comply with all national codes, laws and regulations of the country in which they are to take place, as well as those relating to the country in which the hosting pharmaceutical company is located. For example, advisory boards involving any UK HCPs must comply with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice.

By their very nature, advisory boards are so diverse that each one seems to throw up new compliance questions. There is no doubt that a sound knowledge of the relevant codes is essential, and that perceptions of the meeting – held by the people you invite and regulators alike – are as important as the reality.

It is also important to create a concept document at the beginning of the project to help ensure that everything is thought through upfront and that all stakeholders (and signatories) are clear on the purpose of the meeting and are in agreement.


Find the best people for the job

The success of your virtual advisory board will depend on having expert and confident speakers and a strong chair.

Invitees to an advisory board should be chosen based on their expertise and their ability to answer the specific business questions. Porterhouse Medical Group offers key opinion leader profiling to produce a list of potential professionals ranked by their expertise and relevance to the objectives of an advisory board. Besides being a completely transparent way of selecting advisory board invitees, key opinion leader profiling is also a good way to identify rising stars or those who have previously fallen under the radar.

To ensure active participation by all, you should avoid the temptation to include too many participants, as it can be hard to maintain engagement if there are too many people online. We advise selecting a maximum of 10 invitees in the first instance; however, from a compliance perspective, it is important to only have the number of people at the advisory board that you need to answer the business questions.

It is also important that each company member at an advisory board meeting has a clear and documented need to join; it would not be appropriate to attend simply as an observer. The number of company attendees (including agency staff) should also be well below the number of advisors – avoid the temptation with a virtual advisory board to have lots of staff listen in.

Choosing an effective chair and strong facilitators can be the key to a highly successful advisory board, virtual or otherwise. The chair should be chosen based on their facilitation expertise and ideally have experience of facilitating online and a high standing among their peers.


Choose an appropriate platform

There are a range of online meeting platforms available, each with its own tools and features, such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Adobe Connect. The chosen platform needs to be secure so only the advisors who are under contract will be admitted into the ‘room’.

While it is preferable to encourage participants to ask questions and add comments out loud, you may like to consider adding Q&A and chat functions for virtual networking so that advisors can avoid interrupting presentations . The ‘raise hand’ feature is useful for this, as it prompts the speaker to ask the listener what their question is when they come to a pause.

The technology selected will also depend on which is most accessible to the participants of the meeting. However, whichever platform you choose, using video will help to maximise engagement from all invitees during the meeting. Porterhouse can guide you on which platform will best meet your needs.

To get the best from the advisory board, it is important that all participants are familiar with the platform before the meeting starts and that you test the technology with each advisor to avoid any technical issues or delays during the actual meeting.

Ensure all participants are prepared   

Set a clear role for everyone at the meeting  

To maximise involvement and engagement of all participants in the advisory board, consider assigning roles, topics or sections of the agenda to individuals to lead or facilitate during the meeting to give a sense of ownership.

In the run-up to your advisory board, you and your agency should hold briefing calls with your chair and each speaker to ensure that each person understands their role. Communicate the agenda and a meeting flow document to ensure that there is enough time for each member to contribute and the objectives are achieved. Don’t be tempted to do this only by email, as speakers who discuss their presentation in a briefing call are usually more engaged at the meeting than those who interact only via email.

2    Best practice during the meeting

Maximise engagement and ensure the meeting objectives are achieved

The use of video and interactive materials during the event will give a more personal feel and maximise engagement from all participants.

The carefully pre-prepared agenda should allow each participant to contribute to the discussion, and facilitators should encourage less vocal members of the group to participate.

Introducing regular discussion questions to gain ongoing feedback during the meetings will help maintain engagement levels and ensure the business questions are answered.


Keep compliance in mind

It is essential that advisory boards are run to high standards and that the whole process, from conception to the meeting itself, stands up to independent scrutiny. An auditor looking back at the materials after the event should be able to understand the objectives of the meeting and quickly decide that it was not a promotional activity.

Always keep in mind that the purpose of an advisory board is to seek advice from invitees, not provide them with information or otherwise influence them. The agenda should be largely discussion based and any information presented at the meeting – particularly clinical data relating to your product – must be with the sole purpose of seeking advice based on it. The presentation of information that is not essential to meet the advisory board objectives is likely to be perceived as disguised promotion, or the promotion of an unlicensed medicine or indication. Clinical data can easily appear promotional when out of context; therefore, to avoid doubt, you should include specific discussion questions relating to the clinical data both in the slide presentations and in the agenda.

It is important that all slide presentations and discussion questions are approved ahead of the meeting.

3  After the advisory board – follow-up  

If possible, it is always good for company members to debrief online immediately after the advisory board has finished, to gain real-time feedback on the format of the discussions and inform any changes or improvements that could be made in the future.

Similarly, the company stakeholders should share minutes and follow-up actions between themselves promptly.

Important note: It is not advisable to seek feedback from the HCPs themselves on the exchange, as this action could be interpreted as an attempt to impress the invitees, rather than a case of trying to ascertain ways to improve similar future meetings.

A recording of the meeting and a report detailing discussions and outputs of the advisory board should be produced after the event; if you’re using an agency, they will usually offer a medical writer to do this for you. This report shouldn’t be an unwieldy transcript of the meeting, but a clear, well-thought-out document that sets out the feedback received in response to the original business questions, alongside action points for the company.

This report represents the final confirmation that everything was done correctly, so ensure that a copy is included in the approvals folder before archiving.

At Porterhouse, we have organised hundreds of advisory boards, and we can help you navigate compliance with confidence. We firmly believe that as long as you are using advisory boards for their proper purpose – that is, gaining advice – following the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) guidance to the letter can actually help you to get the answers you need. 

Let us show you how we do it. We would love to help