The American Rhinologic Society recently decided to buck the trend when it comes to its conflict-of-interest policy. Unlike the 29 medical societies that are listed on the Council of Medical Specialty Societies Web site as having already signed its voluntary Code for Interactions with Companies, ARS decided the CMSS model was too restrictive and developed its own Guidance for Conflict of Interest when Interacting with Industry, which allows transparent interactions between industry and ARS.

According to Brent Senior, MD, president of the ARS and chief of Rhinology, Allergy, and Sinus Surgery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ARS understands the importance of physician-industry interactions to the development of innovations in drugs, services, and other healthcare-related products. He notes that nearly any new surgical procedure or device is by necessity developed through a partnership with physicians and companies. Despite “some well-publicized incidents of doctors and companies who have abused the system, which has understandably prompted outrage, we believe it’s a mistake to forbid any interaction with companies,” he says. “Those relationships are crucial to innovation and advancements in patient care, and if those lines of communication and opportunities for funding are shut down, patients will suffer.”

The ARS policy does not set dollar amounts or limit interaction between companies and ARS leaders, or members of its organizational committees, task forces, and panels. It does, however, require that the relationships be listed on its Web site and that they follow a set of ground rules designed to prevent industry influence. So doctors who have conflicts may sit on a panel and participate in a debate after disclosing the COI, but they cannot draft the policy or vote on it.

Senior says that the policy of transparency respects the intelligence of patients and doctors by allowing them to make their own decisions based on the nature of the relationship. “If a patient knows that Dr. Jones received $250,000 from a company, he might understandably have concerns about the doctor and choose to see someone else,” he says. “But if he knows the doctor was treated to a $45 dinner while he learned about a new innovation, it’s less likely to be a major concern.”

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