3 min read

Without Preparation and Policies, Conflicts of Interest Can Pose Big Risk to Practices

May 3, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Are you monitoring conflicts of interest within your healthcare facility? A conflict of interest (COI) in your workplace can happen easily and for a wide variety of reasons. It is best to be prepared to protect your organization by taking some precautionary steps.

Be Aware and Prepare for Real and Imagined Conflicts of Interest 


Conflicts of interest arise when there are actual conflicts between an employee's private interests and their professional and fiduciary obligations to your organization.

Potential conflicts of interest exists when circumstances may lead to conflicts between private and organizational interests.

Perceived conflicts of interest exist when someone questions whether the employee’s actions could be influenced by the potential of personal gain - financial or otherwise.

Your first step toward avoiding actual, potential or perceived COI issues is to define for your organization and industry what a conflict of interest is.

Why? Because definitions may vary from one practice to another. Small organizations, for example, may have significantly different definitions for conflicts of interest than larger organizations. Organizations in rural areas or where a limited number of skilled workers reside may have varying levels of COI acceptance.

Let’s examine some common types of conflict of interest:

Relationships

Working with friends or family doesn't always pose a conflict of interest, but it can become one if personal interests conflicts with supervisory or hiring responsibilities. For example:

  • Performance reviews can lose objectivity

  • Raises and bonuses can be unfairly distributed

  • The best candidate for the job may not be the one working for you

This may also create a toxic workplace environment when staff do not feel comfortable raising issues out of concern of retaliation.

Romantic Relationships

Dating in the workplace is like stepping into a minefield if potential conflicts of interest aren't taken into consideration. A romantic relationship between a supervisor and a direct-report could result in preferential treatment. Or a soured relationship could result in various forms of retaliation that could place your practice at considerable risk for a variety of legal issues.

Financial

A financial COI can take many forms and have many unintended ramifications for health facilities that are the result of:

  • An office manager ordering supplies from a company that her brother owns

  • An employee who is a board member of a competitor

  • A staff member receiving or offering gifts in exchange for some form of influence

Gifts and hospitality (meals) need special attention as they could indicate kickbacks.

Be mindful of what may appear to be an innocent or well-meaning activity. Perhaps a member of leadership serves on a community board, resulting in staff feeling obliged to make donations or attend functions. This can be a potential COI, as can work-hours spent on political campaigns.

Confidentiality

Your health care facility's confidential information could be compromised by an employee who does outside consulting, who hires one of your vendors for their own purposes, or starts their own business using your information. Large purchases or mergers could influence stock information and be used to gain an advantage. Your purchasing decisions, systems, vendors, and patients are all sources of potential income for someone else.

Act Now to Protect Your Practice from COI

From the above examples, you can see where COIs could put you and your organization at significant risk from a variety of angles.

To prevent COIs, establish strong policies and disclosure processes. Disclosure allows you to review and investigate if something is a true COI. It can also help you prepare for future potential issues. Disclosure should be a process that is non-threatening to your staff, and in which confidentiality should be maintained as much as possible.
After defining what a COI is in your industry and establishing your policies and procedures, it is time to train your staff. Clear understanding with industry-specific examples will help staff identify and report COIs.

Identify COIs and mitigate the risks through careful investigation and remediation. Some COIs may be unavoidable and only require documentation and proactive monitoring. More serious COIs require mitigation that may impact how you conduct your business.

Mitigation may vary based on your specific organization and the COI situation. Documentation of your mitigation should be kept in a secure place and revisited at least annually if the COI is ongoing.

Protecting your organization from conflicts of interest and their potential risks starts with you. The time spent creating and implementing your COI policy and procedure will save you many potential future headaches.

Spare Your Practice Headaches

Those same kinds of headaches also exist for practices having to deal with eligibility verification, redundant data re-entry and avoidable coding errors, as examples. At InSync Healthcare Solutions, our fully integrated, interoperable and mobile EHR software increases cost-saving efficiencies that minimize the potential for those kinds of problems. 

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For a closer look at how our software system can streamline your organization's workflows, schedule a demo now with one of our experts. We're happy to explain how our system can save you time and money and answer any questions you might have. 

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Beth Socoski

Written by Beth Socoski

With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare, compliance, and security, Beth brings integrity, respect, and a world of valuable and applicable knowledge to the InSync team. In addition to three master’s degrees, she has multiple accreditations in healthcare, compliance, ethics, and leadership. As a scholar at heart, she is steadfast in her desire to remain current on compliance requirements – and to share that information in language that is easily understood by all.

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