II. Compliance Program Elements E. Developing Effective Lines of Communication
1. Access to Supervisors and/or the Compliance Officer
In order for a compliance program to work, employees must be able to ask questions and report problems. Supervisors play a key role in responding to employee concerns and it is appropriate that they serve as a first line of communications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers should consider the adoption of open-door policies in order to foster dialogue between management and employees. In order to encourage communications, confidentiality and non-retaliation policies should also be developed and distributed to all employees.18
Open lines of communication between the compliance officer and employees are equally important to the successful implementation of a compliance program and the reduction of any potential for fraud and abuse. In addition to serving as a contact point for reporting problems and initiating appropriate responsive action, the compliance officer should be viewed as someone to whom personnel can go to get clarification on the company’s policies. Questions and responses should be documented and dated and, if appropriate, shared with other staff so that compliance standards or polices can be updated and improved to reflect any necessary changes or clarifications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers may also consider rewarding employees for appropriate use of established reporting systems as a way to encourage the use of such systems.
2. Hotlines and Other Forms of Communication
The OIG encourages the use of hotlines, e-mails, newsletters, suggestion boxes, and other forms of information exchange to maintain open lines of communication. In addition, an effective employee exit interview program could be designed to solicit information from departing employees regarding potential misconduct and suspected violations of company policy and procedures. Pharmaceutical manufacturers may also identify areas of risk or concern through periodic surveys or communications with sales representatives about the current marketing environment. This could provide management with insight about and an opportunity to address conduct occurring in the field, either by the company’s own sale representatives or those of other companies.
If a pharmaceutical manufacturer establishes a hotline or other reporting mechanism, information regarding how to access the reporting mechanism should be made readily available to all employees and independent contractors by including that information in the code of conduct or by circulating the information (e.g., by publishing the hotline number or e-mail address on wallet cards) or conspicuously posting the information in common work areas. Employees should be permitted to report matters on an anonymous basis.
Reported matters that suggest substantial violations of compliance policies or applicable Federal health care program requirements should be documented and investigated promptly to determine their veracity and the scope and cause of any underlying problem. The compliance officer should maintain a detailed log that records such reports, including the nature of any investigation, its results, and any remedial or disciplinary action taken. Such information, redacted of individual identifiers, should be summarized and included in reports to the board of directors, the president or CEO, and compliance committee. Although the pharmaceutical manufacturer should always strive to maintain the confidentiality of an employee’s identity, it should also make clear that there might be a point where the individual’s identity may become known or need to be revealed in certain instances. The OIG recognizes that protecting anonymity may be infeasible for small companies. However, the OIG believes all employees, when seeking answers to questions or reporting potential instances of fraud and abuse, should know to whom to turn for a meaningful response and should be able to do so without fear of retribution.