Continue to Site

“Attendees can’t miss your prominent corporate or product logo on these directional signs in high traffic areas throughout the exhibit hall.”

“Maximize your company’s brand recognition on the exhibit floor with Exhibit Hall Carpet Logos.”

“Attract high visibility throughout the convention center and beyond as attendees find multiple uses for the exhibit hall literature bag.”

“Your company’s welcoming gesture is a lasting impression on the minds of Heart Rhythm 2011 attendees as they wind down after a busy day.”

“A key ingredient to your marketing success! These room keys travel with over 7,000 attendees for four days.”

“Elevator Advertising provides great visibility to a captured audience for your printed corporate name or product and expose for your company’s message to attendees.”

“Digital advertising offers high visibility in lobby and meeting room areas at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and Hilton San Francisco Union Square.”

“Exclusive to the headquarter hotel, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis offers 21st century digital messaging capabilities.”

“Assist attendees as they navigate through four days of educational content before, during and after the annual meeting.”

“Attendees will be flying in from all over the country and abroad and San Francisco International Airport will be bustling with excited attendees.”

“Newspaper rack advertising is available around the Moscone Center and throughout San Francisco downtown area.”

“Help attendees tour San Francisco with ease! As the sponsor, your company will be an assistant tour guide.”

“Saddle banner ads always add a look of interest to the Scientific Sessions.”

“Shuttle buses will travel from various hotels to the Moscone Center.”

“This is a rare chance for product advertising as attendees relax in a captive setting.”

“The Social Media Center will be utilized by thousands of attendees to express their thoughts and comments on the sessions, exhibits and meetings held during Heart Rhythm 2011.”

“The Link will allow attendees to relax and stay connected during Heart Rhythm 2011, offering comfortable seating and access to the internet through their laptop(s).”

“Water bottles are served as daily refreshment during the breaks inside the exhibit hall.”

“These water stations will be strategically located throughout the Moscone Center, ensuring presence throughout the facility.”

The spending befits the company’s dominance of the world market for implantable defibrillators. It sold more than $3 billion worth last year.

Next booth down is the 8,100-square-foot spread of rival Boston Scientific, with $1.6 billion in defibrillator sales last year. The company spent $1.5 million on the society in 2010 and paid speaking or consulting fees to seven board members.

Physicians must traverse these and other booths to reach “Poster Town,” where the latest research findings, a big draw of the gathering, are displayed. “It’s very hard to get through there without being accosted,” said Dr. Paul D. Varosy, director of cardiac electrophysiology at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ Eastern Colorado Health Care System.

‘Tag and Release’

Through the years, groups such as the Heart Rhythm Society have expanded the range of sponsorships they offer to drug and device makers. Companies can now fund Wii game rooms or put their names on conference massage stations and on the shirts of the masseuses.

Some deals give companies more than name exposure. Last month, the American College of Cardiology attached tracking devices to doctors’ conference ID badges. Many physicians were unaware that exhibitors had paid to receive real-time data about who visited their booths, including names, job titles and how much time they spent.

Dr. Westby Fisher, an Evanston, Ill., electrophysiologist, called the practice “Tag and release.” College officials say they’ll do a better job of notifying doctors next year.

Attendees at the Rhythm Society conference also have tracking badges. Society officials say exhibitors are not getting doctors’ personal information.

Two years ago, the American Society of Hypertension teamed with its biggest donor, Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd. (TYO:4568), to create a training program for drug company sales reps. The society says about 1,200 Daiichi reps have graduated — at a cost of $1,990 each — allowing them to put the “ASH Accreditation symbol” on business cards.

In fiscal 2009, Daiichi gave the society more than $3.3 million — more than 70% of its total industry funding — according to financial records it provided Grassley. Daiichi makes four hypertension drugs.

“I think it’s an obscenity,” said former ASH president Michael Alderman, professor emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “I can see how it would play out in the doctor’s office: ‘I’m a Daiichi sales rep. But let me tell you something: The American Society of Hypertension is backing me.’”

Alderman and some other prominent members of the group quit after a dispute in 2006 about industry influence.

Current ASH President George Bakris said the training program is science-based and doesn’t focus on specific drugs. The reps “ought to know what they are talking about,” he said.

The 1,900-member group has revised its policies since 2006, he said. Financial conflicts disclosed by board members, however, are available only to members, who must request them in writing and explain why they want them, according to the group’s conflict of interest policy.

A Question of Influence

Bakris and leaders of several other professional groups say industry funding is essential for much of what they do. It reduces conference registration fees, subsidizes the cost of continuing medical education courses and provides money for disease awareness.

Dr. Jack Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology, said the money is helping build registries of cardiac procedures that track side effects and flag whether physicians are using devices in the right patients.

The “circus element” of the exhibit booths doesn’t unduly influence attendees, Lewin said. “I don’t buy a soft drink just because of the advertising… I buy it because I like it.”

Researchers say companies are not spending millions solely for altruistic reasons. “If it weren’t influencing the doctors, they wouldn’t be doing it,” said Dr. Gordon Guyatt, a health policy expert at McMaster University in Ontario.

There are fledgling efforts to push medical societies toward stricter limits on industry funding: 34 groups have signed a voluntary code of conduct calling for public disclosure of funding and limits on how many people on guideline-writing panels have industry ties.

“The general feeling is that the societies need to be independent of the influence of companies,” said Dr. Norman B. Kahn Jr., chief executive of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, which helped draft the code.

Grassley, too, is continuing his efforts to make the groups publicly accountable. In initial responses to his December 2009 request for information, some said they planned to post financial information on their websites. This week, the senator followed up with letters to some groups, asking why they hadn’t done so.

He hopes the political pressure succeeds: “You might conclude that maybe they don’t want to give the information out because it might be embarrassing.”

Follow on Twitter: @charlesornstein, @tracyweber

Top image: “pioneering medical device company: oracle world billboard lights” by Steven Damron acquired on Flickr.