Conflict of Interest Policies in Your Radiology Group

December 3, 2012

CHICAGO - If your radiology practice doesn’t have conflict of interest policies in place, you’re not alone. Here’s why it’s important and what to do.

CHICAGO - If your radiology practice doesn’t have conflict of interest policies in place, you’re not alone.

In a session at RSNA 2012 this week, just over half of the attendees reported being aware of their practice’s policies, and 20 percent said they don’t have policies in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

But they should be in place, said Ken Buckwalter, MD, radiology professor at Indiana University School of Medicine and a presenter at the session focused on building a professional culture in the radiology department. Radiologists and their colleagues should be clear on how to deal with perks like honoraria, vendor access, and consulting.

“There’s a bit of a tight rope balance here between being overly restrictive and realizing there can be a bias toward your industry partners,” he said.

Conflicts of interest happen when an activity favors a certain organization or product, getting in the way of the primary interest of the physician: patient care. Even a small financial gain can sway interest, Buckwalter said. And as the radiology profession continues to focus on patient-centered care, conflict of interest policies are an important component of this professional culture.

The pharmaceutical industry association outlines a specific code of conduct for physicians an industry detailing what’s OK and what could get you in trouble, Buckwalter said. Permitted, for example, are scholarships to students for events, arrangements for expert consultations, and unrestricted grants to CME providers. Restricted activities include meals at CME events and funding speaking engagements to introduce treatment or prescription recommendations that don’t advance treatment.

Conflict of interest policies help physicians sustain public confidence in the professional judgment, Buckwalter said, “and we need to minimize situations where people think judgment can be compromised.”

Radiology departments and practices should create policies that are preventative, not punative, personal or offensive, he said. Look at what should be declared as a conflict, when, and how to create a specific policy to avoid the situation.

Buckwalter also recommended making sure policies are accessible and understandable to internal and external institutions, determining who will maintain and revise the policies, and making sure they are equally applied to all relevant groups in institution.