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Vol 22, No. 06, June 2018   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Navigating the screening conundrum in the pharmaceutical industry
Mary O’Loughlin highlights the importance of consistency and compliance in the rapidly changing Asia-Pacific healthcare landscape.

With Asia expected to be home to over 60 per cent of the world’s total population aged 65 years or older by 2030,1 it’s no surprise that the region’s healthcare & life sciences industry is growing at an exponential rate – 11.1 per cent in 2018 compared to the global average of 4.8 per cent.2 Indeed, we are seeing a constant stream of new offerings across the sector, from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to a range of care services, as markets across Asia-Pacific (APAC) innovate to address the challenges and opportunities of rapidly ageing populations.

Naturally, this growth has also led to bullish forecasts in hiring, with over a third (35 per cent) of healthcare organisations across APAC expecting their workforce to increase by 6 per cent or more in the coming year, according to the 2018 HireRight APAC Employment Screening Benchmark Report. However, the competition for qualified employees is growing, and costs are adding up as understaffed hospitals, clinics and labs pay to bring in contingent and foreign workers to fill the gaps. To reduce cost and time to hire, this is leading to organisations within the healthcare & life sciences industry to rush through background checks – if not, particularly in the case of contract hires or international applicants, drop them altogether.

Of course, this means risk. Patents and other valuable intellectual property – often worth millions – could be exposed, there is the potential for insider threats, lawsuits should there be cases of medical negligence, and, not least of all, abuse of employee access to prescription drugs once onboard.

But it is not just the risks that companies should be considering when they skip processes – there are also a lot of positive outcomes to be gained from screening. The HireRight Benchmark Report suggests that 81 per cent of organisations feel background checks lead to a better quality of hire. Other advantages include greater employee retention (29 per cent), more consistent safety and security (29 per cent) and a better company reputation (23 per cent).

As an industry, we simply cannot afford to skimp on screening. So how can healthcare organisations navigate the system to create a win-win situation for all?

Setting the groundwork for screening

Background checks encompass a wide variety of areas, and need to be tailored to an organisation’s unique needs as well as the broader regulatory environment. Human Resource (HR) departments should carefully consider the areas that they need to screen to make the process simple, yet effective. Ideally, the background screening process should also be supported by easy-to-use, mobile-enabled technology to drive a positive user experience and reduce the to and fro.

It is important to offer information upfront to cut down on confusion and inefficiencies – candidates should understand the timeline, their rights and why the employer is asking certain questions. They should also know what paperwork might be required. The more transparent you can be about the process, the more empowered a candidate will feel, and the better their overall experience will be.

Consistency across the board

However, screening procedures should not just incorporate prospective job applicants. Beyond this, there are a number of other groups healthcare organisations should take into consideration.

The HireRight Benchmark Report this year noted that 53 per cent of organisations across APAC have workforces comprising 10 per cent or more contingent and contract hires. Their influence is significant – and in the case of healthcare and life sciences, they will be walking hospital halls, treating patients or handling sensitive information just like full-time employees. So, ensuring that they have adhered to the same rigorous screening standards is imperative.

The challenges of navigating foreign screening regulations also means that global candidates are more likely to skip the process than other groups. In fact, only 41 per cent of organisations in APAC screen international applicants, and less than a third (30 per cent) check the international backgrounds of local candidates. However, the payoff is big when the effort allows employers to land on the most qualified candidates – and the risk is considerable when a lack of screening could allow someone to escape previous discrepancies.

Finally, screening procedures should also incorporate existing employees and non-employees post-hire. Re-screening is gaining traction across the APAC region, with more than half (56 per cent) of organisations including it in their hiring strategies to account for changes in circumstances – for example, when an employee has been promoted or moved into a new role that is more senior or carries with it new responsibilities, expectations and access.

While certain checks are likely to remain static, such as educational qualifications, others like professional licenses being in good standing are liable to change. An annual license check therefore helps mitigate future risk to an organisation without being too arduous a process for staff. Hospitals or pharmaceutical companies may also want to consider what drugs employees have access to, and tailor screenings accordingly with expanded drug panels, or additional saliva, hair strand and blood tests.

To note, it is important to distinguish rescreening from a monitoring programme developed to dismiss offenders without just cause. Instead, the company is looking to protect the safety of its patients and employees, preserve its reputation, and build upon already high standards of professionalism.

With that in mind, any changes in company policy – and the consequences of such – should be made transparent. In most APAC markets, conducting drug and alcohol tests for example requires prior informed consent from the employee – what happens then if the employee refuses to comply? Equally, if something were to be uncovered during a screening – such as a positive drug test – what action would be taken? There can be little room for ambiguity, particularly when it comes to existing staff who may be reluctant to embrace new protocols.

With all the challenges facing healthcare organisations, background screening may seem like an easy place to make cuts and reduce time-to-hire. However, the reality is, it is those challenges precisely that make a thorough screen even more critical to ensure that employees, new and old, help add to an efficient and positive environment for all.

Mary O’Loughlin is the vice president and managing director of healthcare and life sciences at HireRight.

HireRight is a global background screening solutions provider.

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