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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Institutional Conflicts of Interest and Public Trust

Francisco G. Cigarroa, Bettie Sue Masters, Dan Sharphorn
JAMA. Published online November 14, 2018.

Here is an excerpt:

It is no longer enough for institutions conducting research to only have conflict of interest policies for individual researchers, they also must directly address the growing concern about institutional conflicts of interest. Every research institution and university deserving of the public’s trust needs to have well-defined institutional conflict of interest policies. A process must be established that will ensure research is untainted by any personal financial interests of the researcher, and that no financial interests exist for the institution or the institution’s key decision makers that could cloud otherwise open and honest decisions regarding the institution’s research mission.

Education and culture are fundamental to the successful implementation of any policy. It is incumbent upon institutional decision makers and all employees involved in research to be knowledgeable about individual and institutional conflict of interest policies. It may not always be obvious to researchers that they have a perceived or real conflict of interest or bias. Therefore, it is important to establish a culture of transparency and disclosure of any outside interests that could potentially influence research and include individuals at the highest level of the institution. Policies should be clear and easy to implement and permit pathways to provide disclosure with adequate explanation, as well as information regarding how potential or real conflicts of interest are managed or eliminated. This will require the establishment of interactive databases aimed at mitigating, to the extent possible, both individual and institutional conflicts of interest.

Policies alone are not sufficient to protect an institution from conflicts of interest. Institutional compliance toward these policies and dedication toward establishing processes by which to identify, resolve, or eliminate institutional conflicts of interest are necessary. Institutions and their respective boards of trustees should be prepared to address sensitive situations when a supervisor, executive leader, or trustee is identified as contributing to an institutional conflict of interest and be prepared to direct specific actions to resolve such conflict. In this regard, it would be prudent for governance to establish an institutional conflicts of interest committee with sufficient authority to manage or eliminate perceived or real conflicts of interest affecting the institution.