Headliner: Pfizer's Maureen Doyle-Scharff
She makes house calls, lots of them. Maureen Doyle-Scharff, MBA, FACME, calls Ohio home but logs about half her work hours in Pfizer's Manhattan offices. The other half is spent traveling. On her itinerary this month, a whirlwind tour of four Midwestern states: Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
You might call it a speaking tour for Doyle-Scharff, who brought her considerable expertise in education to Pfizer last September just as the company put in place a regional system of grant management. By fanning its five education directors out across the country to shmooze with education providers, goes the thinking, the company can better assess competencies, needs and clinical learning gaps, as well as communicate its funding goals.
“I don't take lightly the fact that I'm considered a leader in the CME industry,” Doyle-Scharff says, adding that she accepts the assignment with humility and that she considers many of those with whom she speaks to be mentors. “I also enjoy the fact that I can have conversations with a variety of stakeholders who are interested in what my experiences have been in terms of industry support of education and why it's absolutely appropriate for us to be engaged in this. Because patients can benefit from it.”
She'll have plenty of opportunity. Her portfolio includes such territories as Alaska, Washington and Oregon. At the moment, she and a colleague are splitting California, unless Pfizer decides to hire a sixth director to cover the golden state.
The face-to-face style is a welcome change from the centralized, impersonal grant application systems that have been the bane of providers the last few years. “By strictly communicating with providers via our grants system,” Doyle-Scharff explains, “we're losing the ability to really appreciate what things are going on in their own backyard that have led them to want to produce an educational activity in the first place.”
There's plenty to talk about over the fence. Word is Big Pharma's thin pipelines and shrinking profits will translate into diminished grant budgets, just as a truckload of new standards are coming down the pike that encourage sophisticated QI-oriented CME over the more common, update-oriented kind. Collaboration is the buzz word, and it must occur among teaching hospitals, medical societies and med ed companies so that patient data can be recorded and linked back to an educational activity to prove it really impacted outcomes. Only then can CME defend itself against the slings and arrows of Congress and the media, who accuse it of such nasty things as using education as a shill for off-label promotion.
Budgets aside, the profession has a very capable champion in Doyle-Scharff. She reorganized the education group at Abbott Nutrition from top to bottom (Abbott's pharma division is now adopting her policies), while in her other role wrangled with the World Health Organization and other groups on global health policy issues, like raising awareness of formula among mothers in countries where such promotion is illegal. The third hat she wore with Abbott was alliance development.
“My passion has always been the medical education piece,” she says, “I was part of a division where we were making a difference, but what I sought was to be able to make that difference on a broader scale.” If infant nutrition could offer that, “I may not be sitting here in Manhattan!”
Pfizer launched a new grant portal Jan. 4 that is designed to be more user-friendly than an earlier version. The company is expected to post CME grants awarded—a lá Eli Lilly—online by the end of March, and further transparency may be in store. “We want to get to a point where we can post budgets by clinical area,” Doyle-Scharff says, along with a “real-time track of what monies are available” (date to be determined). “[CME funding] shouldn't be a big, black box. We want to be a trusted stakeholder.”
Those words should assure providers and legislators alike that Pfizer, which lagged peers in overhauling its medical education grants model to bring it in line with 2003's OIG guidance, is back on track.
When the Doyle-Scharff express comes to a halt, it's usually at home in Ohio, where her husband and two (at this writing, soon to be three) children wait with open arms.“I spend every spare moment I have outside of work with them,” she says. Then, it's back on the road. Hello, Anchorage.