The Opportunity to Standardize Healthcare Conflict Of Interest (COI) Management

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

A healthcare conflict of interest (COI) can have a disastrous impact on the impartiality we all expect when it comes to healthcare. When uncovered, a COI can make us question the necessity of the care we’ve received and the judgment of our clinician. Nothing should come between the care decisions made by a provider and the best interests of a patient.

A Survey of COI Leaders about the State of COI Management

To establish a baseline for how healthcare organizations are implementing their efforts to reduce conflicts of interest (COIs), HCCS—A HealthStream Company recently surveyed 281 U.S. healthcare compliance leaders about the compliance programs in their hospitals. Some of the survey’s goals were to discover how COIs are being monitored, identify common deficits among them, and find ways to incorporate improvements.

There’s Room for COI Standardization

One significant commonality uncovered within the survey responses is that there’s room for standardization in the way healthcare organizations address COI compliance. Here are three findings relevant to the current fragmented ways many hospitals work to uncover and eliminate conflicts of interest:

  1. Between paper, spreadsheets, and online options, there is not a dominant system choice for COI management.

    25.5% of respondents use paper forms for COI tracking, and 18.8 % use a cloud-based solution. 29.8% employ a combination of the two. Resource and cost constraints are offered by 40.3% as a reason they are using their specific management methods.

  2. The collection of COI data is similarly fragmented among multiple communication options.

    38.4% of those surveyed collect COI data by email, with cloud-based systems (31.8%) and mail (22.2%) coming second and third as options. Spreadsheets and collection of data by phone or in person were also used, but far less frequently. More than half of respondents indicated that the chance for duplication and overlap in their systems is “low” or “very low.”

  3. There is not a consistent standard for the cadence and duration of COI data collection—many organizations use the calendar year as a rough determinant for the length of a regular COI process.

35.3 % rely on an annual COI process, while only 6.3 % use a permission-based, or transactional process for COI management. Interestingly, 42.1% employ a mixture of the two. Most respondents designated January or December as the time of when their programs end. There was no clear trend in the length of time a COI process lasted, with survey responses indicating anywhere from less than a month to six months or more for 100% questionnaire completion. 

These survey responses show that there’s much opportunity for improvement in how healthcare identifies and mitigates COIs. Some comes down to manpower—when data collection occurs by email or mail, the manual processes involved in compiling it are time-consuming and labor intensive. Can healthcare really afford to continue doing it this way, especially when the processes contain too much inherent risk?

Why Use Systems That Automate COI Compliance?

Using automated systems for COI management has clear advantages and instrumental for helping achieve the following:

  • Reduced COI risk at organizations, which helps to protect reputation
  • Satisfaction of fiduciary responsibilities
  • Meeting government requirements for management and reporting of conflicts of interest for clinical research
  • Facilitate Board relations and information collection IRS Form 990

Learn more about COI-SMART, our comprehensive conflict of interest management system, which is currently used at more than 1,200+ locations around the country.