What is a conflict of interest in health care?

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A conflict of interest in a health care organisation may influence a health care provider to perhaps alter his or her treatment of a patient based on a prior allegiance, either to a company or another individual.


The idea of a conflict of interest comes from any situation in which an outside party can influence a second party in such a way that may not be beneficial for a third party who is dependent on the second party.


In the health care system, conflicts of interest can range from doctors having close ties with pharmaceutical, medical supply or insurance companies, for example, and recommending their products in cases that would not be best for patients. Or it can be something as small as accepting gifts from outside companies.


The effects of medical conflicts of interest can be harmful for patients. In the above examples, if the wrong type of medication or treatment is prescribed, either due to doctors’ close ties or influenced by gifts, patients will suffer.


Due to the perceived negative effects of conflicts of interest, any possible conflicts are generally banned. This includes preventing doctors from accepting gifts—even those as small as coffee mugs or pens—that contain outside logos or names which may influence their decisions in a subconscious way.


In the case of close ties that cannot be severed, most health providers have a set process of disclosure to deal with conflicts of interest. While disclosing ties may not eliminate conflicts of interest, it does allow all parties to be aware of their possible existence before negative effects occur.