Conflict of interest and professional medical associations: the North American Spine Society experience

Spine J. 2013 Aug;13(8):974-9. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2012.08.019. Epub 2012 Oct 23.


Background context: Recently the financial relationships between industry and professional medical associations have come under increased scrutiny because of the concern that industry ties may create real or perceived conflicts of interest. Professional medical associations pursue public advocacy as well as promote medical education, develop clinical practice guidelines, fund research, and regulate professional conduct. Therefore, the conflicts of interest of a professional medical association and its leadership can have more far-reaching effects on patient care than those of an individual physician.

Purpose: Few if any professional medical associations have reported their experience with implementing strict divestment and disclosure policies, and among the policies that have been issued, there is little uniformity. We describe the experience of the North American Spine Society (NASS) in implementing comprehensive conflicts of interest policies.

Study design: A special feature article.

Methods: We discuss financial conflicts of interest as they apply to professional medical associations rather than to individual physicians. We describe the current policies of disclosure and divestment adopted by the NASS and how these policies have evolved, been refined, and have had no detrimental impact on membership, attendance at annual meetings, finances, or leadership recruitment. No funding was received for this work. The authors report no potential conflict-of-interest-associated biases in the text.

Results: The NASS has shown that a professional medical association can manage its financial relationships with industry in a manner that minimizes influence and bias.

Conclusions: The NASS experience can provide a template for other professional medical associations to help manage their own possible conflicts of interest issues.

Keywords: Conflicts of interest; Disclosure; Ethics; Professional societies; Research support.

MeSH terms

  • Conflict of Interest / economics*
  • Disclosure / ethics*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Physicians / economics
  • Physicians / ethics
  • Societies, Medical / economics
  • Societies, Medical / ethics*
  • United States