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Special Communication
April 1, 2009

Professional Medical Associations and Their Relationships With Industry: A Proposal for Controlling Conflict of Interest

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: David J. Rothman, PhD, president, Institute on Medicine as a Profession, and Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York; Walter J. McDonald, MD, past CEO, Council of Medical Specialty Societies, Chicago, Illinois; Carol D. Berkowitz, MD, past president, American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Illinois; Susan C. Chimonas, PhD, research scholar, Center on Medicine as a Profession, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York; Catherine D. DeAngelis, MD, MPH, editor in chief, JAMA, Chicago, Illinois; Ralph W. Hale, MD, executive vice president, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Washington, DC; Steven E. Nissen, MD, past president, American College of Cardiology, Washington, DC; June E. Osborn, MD, past president, Josiah Macy, Jr Foundation, New York, New York; James H. Scully Jr, MD, medical director and CEO, American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, Virginia; Gerald E. Thomson, MD, past president, American College of Physicians, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and chairman of the board of directors, Institute on Medicine as a Profession, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York; and David Wofsy, MD, professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

JAMA. 2009;301(13):1367-1372. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.407

Professional medical associations (PMAs) play an essential role in defining and advancing health care standards. Their conferences, continuing medical education courses, practice guidelines, definitions of ethical norms, and public advocacy positions carry great weight with physicians and the public. Because many PMAs receive extensive funding from pharmaceutical and device companies, it is crucial that their guidelines manage both real and perceived conflict of interests. Any threat to the integrity of PMAs must be thoroughly and effectively resolved. Current PMA policies, however, are not uniform and often lack stringency. To address this situation, the authors first identified and analyzed conflicts of interest that may affect the activities, leadership, and members of PMAs. The authors then went on to formulate guidelines, both short-term and long-term, to prevent the appearance or reality of undue industry influence. The recommendations are rigorous and would require many PMAs to transform their mode of operation and perhaps, to forgo valuable activities. To maintain integrity, sacrifice may be required. Nevertheless, these changes are in the best interest of the PMAs, the profession, their members, and the larger society.