Physicians' Conflicts Of Interest Must Be Transparent, Says WMA

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Moves by the medical profession to ensure greater transparency by physicians about their conflicts of interest have been set out by Dr Delon Human, secretary general of the World Medical Association. Speaking today at an international conference in Warsaw, Poland, Dr Human said the profession could do more in this day and age to disclose conflicting interests. This was as relevant to physicians in the consulting room, in clinics and in hospitals as it was to physicians engaged in medical research.

The WMA had recently revised the Declaration of Helsinki to make it clear that medical researchers must provide ethical review committees and potential subjects of research with information about funding, sponsors, institutional affiliations and other potential conflicts of interest such as incentives for subjects. In addition, these funding sources had to be declared when research was published.

When it came to physicians as practitioners, the International Code of Medical Ethics declared that a physician must "not permit motives of profit to influence the free and independent exercise of professional judgement on
behalf of patients". And the WMA's Statement on Professional Responsibility for Standards of Medical Care recognised that patients had the right to be cared for by a physician whom they knew to be free to make clinical and ethical judgements without inappropriate outside interference.

Dr Human said the American Medical Association had recently published a new Code of Medical Ethics, which provided that payment to physicians for the referral of patients was unethical, as were payments or compensation from drug companies for prescribing their products. The Code also drew attention to other conflicts of interest, such as health facility ownership by physicians, and the sale of non-health-related goods from physicians' offices.

Finally, Dr Human said that gifts to physicians from industry were "the kinds of temptations to which physicians are all too often exposed" and he emphasised that no gifts should be accepted if there were strings attached, such as prescribing or underwriting medical conferences.