Context: Conflicts of interest (COIs) may influence medical literature. However, it is unclear whether medical journals have consistent policies for defining and soliciting COI disclosures.
Objective: To determine the prevalence of author COI policies, requirements for signed disclosure statements, and variability in COI definitions among medical journals.
Design: A cross-sectional survey of Instructions for Authors and manuscript submission documents, including authorship responsibility forms, for high-impact medical journals across 35 subject categories available from March through October 2008.
Main outcome measure: Presence of language referring to COI disclosure in the Instructions for Authors or manuscript submission documents.
Results: Of 256 journals, 89% had author COI policies. Fifty-four percent required authors to sign a disclosure statement, and 77% provided definitions of COI. Most definitions were limited to direct financial relationships; a minority of journals requested disclosure of other potential conflicts such as personal relationships (42%), paid expert testimony (42%), relationships with other organizations (26%), or travel grants (12%). The prevalence of policies varied by subject category: all internal medicine, respiratory medicine, and toxicology journals studied had comprehensive COI definitions, with 19 of these 24 journals requiring signed disclosure attestations. In contrast, 6 of 19 geriatrics, radiology, and rehabilitation journals requested author COI disclosure. Most journals that officially endorsed International Committee of Medical Journal Editors guidelines had COI policies (68/69), compared with 84% of journals not endorsing the guidelines (158/187).
Conclusions: In 2008, most medical journals with relatively high impact factors had author COI policies available for public review. Among journals, there was substantial variation in policies for solicitation of author COIs and in definitions of COI.