Background: It has become standard practice in medical journals to require authors to disclose their relationships with industry. However, these requirements vary among journals and often lack specificity. As a result, disclosures may not consistently reveal author-industry ties.
Methods: We examined the 2007 physician payment information from 5 orthopedic device companies to evaluate the current journal disclosure system. We compared company payment information for recipients of $1 million or more with disclosures in the recipients' journal articles. Payment data were obtained from Biomet, DePuy, Smith & Nephew, Stryker, and Zimmer. Disclosures were obtained in the acknowledgments section, conflict of interest statements, and financial disclosures of recipients' published articles. We also assessed variations in disclosure by authorship position, payment-article relatedness, and journal disclosure policies.
Results: Of the 41 individuals who received $1 million or more in 2007, 32 had published articles relating to orthopedics between January 1, 2008, and January 15, 2009. Disclosures of company payments varied considerably. Prominent authorship position and article-payment relatedness were associated with greater disclosure, although nondisclosure rates remained high (46% among first-, sole-, and senior-authored articles and 50% among articles directly or indirectly related to payments). The accuracy of disclosures did not vary with the strength of journals' disclosure policies.
Conclusions: Current journal disclosure practices do not yield complete or consistent information regarding authors' industry ties. Medical journals, along with other medical institutions, should consider new strategies to facilitate accurate and complete transparency.