Professionalism and Conflict of Interest One of the most important assets of an audiologist is reputation in the community he or she serves. This reputation is based not only upon the quality of care provided to patients, but also upon the community’s perception of the integrity of the audiologist’s business operations. Therefore, a guiding principle ... Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   August 01, 2003
Professionalism and Conflict of Interest
Author Notes
  • Allan O. Diefendorf, directs audiology and speech-language pathology at the Indiana University Medical Center. He is on the faculties of the department of otolaryngology, head & neck surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and the department of audiology and speech sciences at Purdue University. Contact him by e-mail at adiefend@iupui.edu.
    Allan O. Diefendorf, directs audiology and speech-language pathology at the Indiana University Medical Center. He is on the faculties of the department of otolaryngology, head & neck surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and the department of audiology and speech sciences at Purdue University. Contact him by e-mail at adiefend@iupui.edu.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   August 01, 2003
Professionalism and Conflict of Interest
The ASHA Leader, August 2003, Vol. 8, 25. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.08142003.25
The ASHA Leader, August 2003, Vol. 8, 25. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.08142003.25
One of the most important assets of an audiologist is reputation in the community he or she serves. This reputation is based not only upon the quality of care provided to patients, but also upon the community’s perception of the integrity of the audiologist’s business operations.
Therefore, a guiding principle for audiologists is that they shall avoid personal interests that conflict with the best interest of the patients they serve. That is, when potential for conflict of interest exists, the interests of the patient must come before those of the audiologist. A conflict of interest may exist when an audiologist or immediate family member engages in business practices or relationships that provide the audiologist with financial incentives. This involvement could result in a loss of objectivity and may affect how services are delivered to a patient who is seeking care and recommendations from the audiologist. Moreover, although the appearance of a conflict of interest may not actually be a legal or ethical violation, appearances can damage the reputation of an individual, his or her practice, and profession.
In ASHA’s Code of Ethics, Principle of Ethics III advocates, “Individuals shall honor their responsibility to the public by promoting public understanding of the professions, by supporting the development of services designed to fulfill the unmet needs of the public, and by providing accurate information in all communications involving any aspect of the professions.” Rule of Ethics III-B states, “Individuals shall not participate in professional activities that constitute a conflict of interest.”
As the profession of audiology has continued to evolve, product dispensing has become a significant part of service delivery. Increasingly, alliances between audiologists and hearing instrument manufacturers have become a significant factor in service delivery. As such, professionals are faced with decisions that may result in ethical dilemmas between their patient’s best interest and their own financial interests. As these relationships become more common and complex, there are more and more possibilities for conflicts of interest.
Examples of potential conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to, any investment, financial interest, or commercial interest in a company with which an audiologist does business; any employment or consulting with a company with which an audiologist does business, without disclosing the relationship to a patient; accepting gifts, material goods, entertainment, incentive travel, or education expenses from a company with which an audiologist does business; and participating in any industry-sponsored social functions that give rise to the appearance of biasing or influencing professional judgment or practice.
Health care professionals are distinguished by the type of services they provide to the public and for complying with strict legal regulations and ethical guidelines regarding reimbursement. As audiologists achieve greater autonomy, receive more third-party payment, and gain more direct access to Medicare reimbursement, our business practices will receive greater scrutiny by the public. As such, audiologists will be held accountable to the same anti-kickback prohibitions and federal laws (Stark Laws) that prohibit physicians from referring patients to an entity for the furnishing of services if the physician or an immediate family member has a direct or indirect financial interest in the entity providing such services.
Doctoring professions, to which audiology aspires to become, assume similar values, attitudes, and beliefs concerning patient care. Serving patients’ interests is the first and primary mission, and this mission must always come before personal financial interests. And conflicts of interest, even if by appearance only, must be eliminated entirely from the professional’s practice.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
August 2003
Volume 8, Issue 14