As you may be aware, there has been recent media attention about conflicts of interest in health care, including
this story. There is a growing demand for governments to implement a mandatory reporting process that would require all UHN employees, physicians and researchers to transparently disclose any relationships they have.
What is a conflict of interest?
A conflict of interest is any circumstance where relationships, current or past, influence, or have the potential to influence, professional judgment, decisions or actions, or may be perceived as doing so.
In this case, "relationships" means: any past or present relationship, activity or situation in which a staff member or his/her associate(s) has/have/had personal, business, professional or other interests that may impact, or be perceived to impact, the staff member's duties. This includes institutional relationships.
While many of our relationships are crucial to the advancement of research, innovation, education and patient care, they could give rise to real or perceived conflicts of interest. This might compromise the decision-making of institutional leaders, health care providers' clinical choices, the integrity of the research enterprise, the hospital's reputation and the public's trust in our health care system more broadly.
Conflict of interest strategies at UHN and TAHSN
Conflict of interest is everyone's responsibility, therefore it's essential that we manage our relationships in a transparent, systematic and fair way. UHN is in the process of establishing a Relationship Management Committee and a Relationship Attestation and Disclosure Policy to ensure that real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest are dealt with in a fair, consistent and practical manner. The focus will be on timely disclosure and appropriate, consistent and transparent management, with a view to safeguarding the public trust, while protecting the integrity of UHN staff, physicians, researchers and stakeholders. The policy and committee are being developed to launch by early fall, with a framework to systematically collect and review disclosures shortly after.
I have also been working alongside Marilyn Emery, CEO of Women's College Hospital, to establish a multidisciplinary Conflict of Interest Steering Committee within the Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN). This committee will develop a harmonized strategy for managing relationships involving hospital executives, employees, medical staff, Board members, students, volunteers and external parties that may impact, or be perceived to impact, a hospital's interests.
Please stay tuned for more updates on this important initiative, which has been fundamentally designed to protect public trust that our community has in UHN and our people.
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