Does Industry Funding Cause Conflicts of Interest?

Studying conflicts of interest in medical research, education, patient care and institutional management

Industry—including drug, medical device and biotechnology companies—is now the leading funder of medical research, and a major sponsor of continuing medical education. Industry also funds guidelines designed to help translate medical research into practice.

In response to growing concern about conflicts of interest and threats to objectivity in medical research, education and practice stemming from industry funding, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened an expert committee that developed principles and recommendations on preventing conflicts of interest and produced a report that was publicly released in September 2009.

Key Results

Project Director Marilyn J. Field, PhD, and staff at the IOM cited these results to RWJF:

  • The IOM published Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice in September 2009. The report proposed principles for assessing conflict of interest and conflict of interest policies and suggested how to identify, limit and manage conflicts of interest without undermining beneficial collaborations with industry.
  • The IOM also published two briefs, one providing an overview of the report and the other focusing on conflicts of interest in research.

Key Findings

Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice included several key findings, including:

  • The central goal of conflict of interest policies in medicine is to protect the integrity of professional judgment and to preserve public trust, rather than to remediate bias and mistrust after they occur.
  • The disclosure of individual and institutional financial relationships is a critical but limited first step in identifying and responding to conflicts of interest.
  • Accrediting groups and public and private health insurers can promote adoption of conflict of interest policies and a culture of accountability to sustain professional norms and public confidence in medicine.
  • If medical institutions do not act voluntarily to strengthen their conflict of interest policies and procedures, pressure for external regulation is likely to grow.

Key Recommendations

Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice offered 16 recommendations, including:

  • Medical institutions should establish conflict of interest policies that require disclosure and management of both individual and institutional financial ties to industry.
  • The content, format and procedures for disclosing the financial relationships physicians and researchers have with industry should be standardized.