Conflict of interest issues pertinent to Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.
Conflicts of interest exist when an arrangement potentially exerts inappropriate influence on decision making or professional judgment, or is perceived to do so, and can thus damage the public trust and undermine the integrity of those decisions. Concerns regarding financial conflicts of interest in the medical arena have reached their height as of late, given that physicians now function in a milieu of complex and delicate relationships with pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries. Even when such relationships do not correlate with actual compromise of judgment or patient care, it threatens the credibility of both the health care professional and the institution because of the social perception of the effect of these relationships. Although most institutions in the Western world set forth a code of ethics and conflict-of-interest policies to be followed under threat of termination, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) presents itself as a unique environment in which conflicts of interest are subject to governmental laws, violation of which may not only result in employment-related discipline, but may be sanctioned by civil and criminal penalties. Moreover, these provisions are developed by a national authoritative organization rather than being institution-specific guidelines. Given that many academic physicians working within the VHA may also have a component of their practice in a University setting, it becomes important to understand the differences in policy between these contexts so as not to threaten the public trust in the veracity of decisions made and, therefore, maintain the integrity of the relationship between physician and patient. This article will review aspects of conflict-of-interest policies in the realm of research, financial relationships, foreign travel, and vendor contracting that are particular to the VHA and make it a unique environment to function in as a physician and scientist.
Hanna, J; Simiele, E; Lawson, DC; Tyler, D
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