WMA issues new Guidelines on the Relationship between Physicians and commercial Enterprises


New ethical guidelines governing the relationship between physicians and commercial enterprises have been published by the World Medical Association.

The Statement, issued at its annual General Assembly in Tokyo today, says that industry support enables medical research, scientific conferences and medical education that could benefit both patients and health care systems. Industry support also enables the development of new medical procedures, drugs and treatments.

But conflicts of interest occur when commercial considerations affect the physician's objectivity.

The Statement declares 'Rather than forbidding any relationships between physicians and industry, it is preferable to establish guidelines for such relationships'.

The guidelines cover four areas - medical conferences, gifts, research and affiliations.

On medical conferences, the guidelines set out a list of principles that should be met before physicians agree to attend commercially sponsored medical conferences. These include:

  • that the main purpose of the conference must be the exchange of professional or scientific information;
  • that hospitality during the conference should be secondary to the professional exchange of information;
  • that the name of a commercial entity providing financial support is publicly disclosed;
  • that presentation of material by a physician is scientifically accurate, gives a balanced review of possible treatment options, and is not influenced by the sponsoring organisation.

On gifts, the guidelines state that physicians should not receive a gift from a commercial entity unless that is permitted by law and/or by the policy of their national medical association and that the gift is only of nominal value, not in cash and is not connected to any stipulation that the physician prescribes a certain medication, uses certain instruments or materials or refers patients to a certain facility.

On the issue of medical research funded by commercial bodies, the guidelines say that physicians must not allow themselves to be subject to external pressure regarding the results of their research or their publication. The document stipulates principles relating to passing on information about research patients and disclosing any sponsorship when publishing the results of research. The principles also state that commercial sponsors may not suppress the publication of research results.

Finally, on affiliations with commercial entities, the guidelines say that physicians should only enter into these if they do not compromise their integrity, conflict with their obligations to their patients and are fully disclosed.

Dr Yoram Blachar, chairman of the WMA Council, said: 'This is the first time that the WMA has issued guidance on this very sensitive issue and I believe it meets the current trends for transparency and the public's right to know about possible conflicts of interest'.

Dr Jon Snaedal, chairman of the WMA's medical ethics committee, said: 'This issue of the inappropriate influence of commercial enterprise on the autonomy of physicians is one that has been causing increasing concern in recent years.

'The WMA has been working on these guidelines for the last two years and I am delighted that, despite the cultural differences that exist, the association has adopted such a firm, common position'.