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May 2, 2017

Why There Are No “Potential” Conflicts of Interest

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 2Department of Health Care Management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA. 2017;317(17):1721-1722. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.2308

During the Institute of Medicine’s 2013 workshop on conflict of interest (COI) and medical innovation, a presentation from PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry association, delineated 5 types of potential conflict in medical research and the likelihood of each resulting in a true conflict.1 Even though these sorts of distinctions between potential or perceived COI on one hand and true or actual COI on the other have become commonplace,2,3 they are misguided. Not only is the notion of a potential COI conceptually confused, labeling certain COI as merely “potential” or “perceived” diminishes their seriousness and obscures the ethical rationale for trying to limit COI in medical practice and research.