Context: Institutional financial conflicts of interest may affect research results. No national data exist on the extent to which US medical schools have formally responded to challenges associated with institutional conflicts of interest (ICOI).
Objective: To assess the current state of ICOI policies and practices in US medical schools using the recommendations issued by 2 national higher education and research organizations as the standard.
Design, setting, and participants: National survey of deans of all 125 accredited allopathic medical schools in the United States, administered between February 2006 and December 2006.
Main outcome measures: The extent to which medical schools have adopted ICOI policies applicable to their institution and to their institutional officials; the scope of these policies in terms of those covered entities, offices, and financial relationships; the existence of recommended organizational structures as means to address ICOI; and the institutions' linkages between ICOI and their institutional review boards (IRBs).
Results: Responses were received from a total of 86 (69%) of 125 US medical schools. Although only 30 (38%) respondents (not all overall respondents answered all questions) have adopted an ICOI policy applicable to financial interests held by the institutions, a much higher number have adopted ICOI policies applicable to the financial interests of the officials: 55 (71%) for senior officials, 55 (69%) for midlevel officials, 62 (81%) for IRB members, and 51 (66%) for governing board members. Most institutions treat as potential ICOI the financial interests held by an institutional research official for a research sponsor (43 [78%]) or for a product that is the subject of research (43 [78%]). The majority of institutions have adopted organizational structures that separate research responsibility from investment management and from technology transfer responsibility. Gaps exist in institutions informing their IRBs of potential ICOI in research projects under review.
Conclusions: This study provides the first national data on the existence and nature of policies and practices of US medical schools for addressing potential ICOI. The gaps identified suggest the need for continuing attention by the academic medical community to address the challenges presented by ICOI more consistently and comprehensively.