Conflicts of Interest in Health Care
A conflict of interest in health care exists when a health care professional "with responsibility to others is influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by financial, personal, or other factors which involve self interest." In a profit-driven capitalistic system the typical motive for the existence of a conflict of interest is usually related to financial considerations. The Editor's experience in medicine has been that decision making not infrequently does not take into consideration the best interests of the patient as opposed to the best interest of the doctor, the hospital, the third party payor, or the government.
Our society uses "experts" in many different capacities ranging from governmental advisors and consultants to "expert witnesses" in the courtroom or legislature, "expert" independent medical examiners, and "expert" specialists. It has been a healthy departure from "business as usual" to find that, more and more, an "experts'" credentials are being taken into consideration as well as any potential conflict of interest.
Advisors to Governmental or Institutional Organizations
It is a factual observation that those who are truly "expert consultants" (possessing the greatest knowledge and understanding regarding a specific subject) typically do have a bias or potential conflict of interest. Their "expertise" regarding a particular subject has usually resulted from their past activities related to incentivization involving personal gain. For example: knowledgeable experts who were members of United States Food and Drug Administration advisory panels in the past have been dismissed because they had potential conflicts of interest. They were replaced by others not having such conflicts but who were, unfortunately, selected only because they were representative of "politically correct" groups having little or no expertise in the issues under consideration. The intelligent utilization of expertise for the benefit of society requires more than political correctness. It involves using the expertise but also limiting the effect of bias. This can be effectively accomplished by the application of the "Sunshine Principal." This involves prior public disclosure of any and all potential biases or conflicts of interest.
The Expert Medical Specialist
When a patient turns to a specialist for advice and/or treatment it is fair to assume that the recommendations for treatment will reflect the patient’s best interests and that the individual being consulted is qualified to give an expert opinion. Unfortunately this is not always the case and it behooves the patient to be aware of potential risks in this regard. In surgical specialties it is not uncommon for surgeons to have developed treatments or medical devices or to have been involved in industry-academia connections for which a financial conflict-of-interest may exist. Minimally invasive heart surgery is considered very promising in medicine. A recent marketing blitz by a start-up company and its surgeon stockholders suggested that their enthusiasm for the procedure was premature and was apparently only a reflection of a significant conflict of interest on their parts and not on demonstrated efficacy of the procedure itself..