Conflict of Interest Rules for Pharmacies and Pharmacists

It is an act of professional misconduct for a pharmacist to practice in a situation of a conflict of interest. 

What constitutes a conflict of interest for a pharmacy or pharmacist is outlined in O. Reg. 130/17: Professional Misconduct and Conflict of Interest, which is a regulation under the Ontario Pharmacy Act (“Regulation”). 

The Regulation defines “conflict of interest” as follows: 

A member is in a conflict of interest if the member’s personal or financial interest, or the personal or financial interest of another person who is in a non-arm’s length relationship with the member conflicts, appears to conflict or potentially conflicts with the member’s professional or ethical duty to a patient or the exercise of the member’s professional judgment.

The definition of “conflict of interest” in the Regulation is very broad and can apply to many different commercial arrangements.

The Regulation lists a number of scenarios as examples of conflict of interest. These examples include: 

  • It is a conflict of interest for a pharmacy or pharmacist to receive any benefit as a result of referring a patient to a third party (i.e., receiving a referral fee). It is important to note that the term “benefit” is defined broadly in the Regulation to include “any incentive or inducement of more than nominal value”. The benefit does not necessarily need to be monetary in nature, and can include, for instance, meals and entertainment. 
  • It is a conflict of interest for a pharmacist to confer any benefit as a result of receiving a patient referral from a third party (i.e., paying a referral fee). Once again, the term “benefit” is broadly defined; 
  • It is a conflict of interest for a pharmacy or pharmacist to enter into any arrangement with a prescriber which encourages the prescriber to promote the services of the pharmacy or pharmacist.

Many typical commercial arrangements, such as lease agreements and referral fee agreements among health professionals could potentially violate the Regulation. 

Violations of the Regulation are acts of professional misconduct and can be prosecuted by the Ontario College of Pharmacists (“OCP”). Findings of professional misconduct can result in penalties such as suspension from practice, restriction of pharmacy ownership, and even revocation of a certificate of registration. Because of the potentially serious consequences of a violation, pharmacists and pharmacies should remain aware of the conflict of interest Regulations, and seek legal advice when considering entering into commercial arrangements that potentially violate the provisions.