Yet Another Healthcare Research Steeplechase Barrier

I was recently informed that I have to take an on-line course about conflict of interest and then document all commercial activities. I was then informed of the same duty three more times. Because I am engaged in research at multiple universities, hospitals and medical schools, these education and reporting activities have to be done multiple times and of course the forms and "educational" syllabi are all different.

Like all large, heavily funded (and rewarded) organized activities, healthcare research has acquired over time some practices that originally made sense but have evolved into anti-productive structures. There have been a number of highly publicized examples of truly egregious behavior by researchers who have hidden their conflicts of interest. Individuals who used the podium of academia and the cachet of their presumed impartiality to declaim, opine, publish regarding a device, therapy, or diagnostic procedure where they stood to gain financially. For decades, it was made abundantly clear to all investigators that any such conflict was to be disclosed in grant applications, in publications and presentations. Yet. it was left up the the investigator to decide whether or not there was indeed a conflict. This ultimately became an all too carefully parsed taxonomical challenge and rather than waste time in such parsing, several of us went the route of full transparency. For example, I have listed on the web all my commercial activities so that my colleagues and the public can decide whether or not there is indeed a conflict.

Presumably because not everyone has traversed this route of transparency, there are now a host of new regulations for annual disclosure. Some of them appear obvious (e.g. disclosure of equity ownership or payment for speaking), others less so (e.g reimbursement for cab fare to attend a commercial conference where there are no speaking fees). In the end these disclosures are important and yet are each of the healthcare research institutions so different as to require different reporting and educational mechanisms? It seems there is an opportunity for an enterprising company or apparatchik to create a single, authoritative form and set of educational materials. Let's just hope they keep it simple.