Introduction: Conflicts of interest are a normal part of human social intercourse. They become problematic when there is a power differential between participants in the setting of relationships requiring a high degree of trust, as in healthcare. In this white paper we consider how these conflicts may be detected and mitigated. Methods: Following Medline search and reference chaining, we undertook a narrative review of the literature with iterative discussion. Results: Conflicts of interest may be financial, professional or personal, and may operate at the level of the individual or the organisation. Unmanaged, they become a source of bias which places the interests of the professional or the organisation before those of the patient. Reported with increasing frequency, conflicts damage trust, harm patients, and defraud the health system. We make 15 recommendations for minimising conflicts of interest. Conclusions: Nationally funded open-access registries should be established to permit complete disclosure of financial, professional, and personal relationships with the potential for driving bias in research, clinical practice, or health management. Governance of disclosure should be the responsibility of employing organisations through annual staff appraisals, audited by national research integrity committees. Research fraud should incur suspension of the license to practice. Organisations should monitor staff perceptions of ethical climate to enhance awareness of staff behaviours and the potential for misconduct driven by academic pressures. Clear separation of advisory and voting roles is needed in best practice guideline panels. Professional societies and scientific journals should display conflict of interest policies for their own staff and officers as well as for speakers and authors. Undergraduates should not be exposed to pharmaceutical promotions masquerading as education. Undergraduate and postgraduate training programmes should include teaching about managing conflicts of interest and identifying research misconduct.
- Conflict of interest
- Medical education
- Research governance
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine