In “Conflict of Interest?” (News, April 7) Mike Seney suggests that physicians are involved in a conflict of interest when they self-refer workers' compensation patients to hospitals with physician ownership. In this setting, a conflict of interest is said to occur when there's an actionable conflict between the personal and professional interests of a physician who's in a position of trust. The patients, however, are aware of the physician-hospital relationship via signed acknowledgement and in reality prefer situations where the physician has ownership of and responsibility for the quality of care.
An apparent conflict itself doesn't imply corruption but physicians knowingly offering unsound medical advice solely for financial benefit would constitute corruption. The primary interest in this case, however, is nothing less than the health and well-being of the patient, which is at once both the personal and professional interest of the physician.
The merging of interests that occurs at this basic level of humanity and dignity where physicians tread every day precludes any conflict. The truth is that to ask these physicians to manage patients in hospitals where they aren't an integral part of the safety network or staff training could be harmful to the patient and would be a conflict of interest on many levels. Full disclosure: I'm a cardiovascular surgeon in hospital-based practice, I don't take care of workers' compensation cases and I'm not a stockholder in any physician-owned hospital.
Kyle Toal, Oklahoma City