Introduction: The relationship between the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) and its industry partners has been longstanding, productive technologically, and beneficial to patient care and education. In order to both maintain this important relationship to honor its responsibility to society for increasing transparency, SAGES established a Conflict of Interest Task Force (CITF) and charged it with identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest (COI) and limiting bias at the SAGES Annual Scientific Meetings. The CITF developed and implemented a comprehensive process for reporting, evaluating, and managing COI in accordance with (and exceeding) Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines.
Methods: From 2011 to 2013, all presenters, moderators, and session chairs received proactive and progressively increasing levels of education regarding the CITF rationale and processes and were required to disclose all relationships with commercial interests. Disclosures were reviewed and discussed by multiple layers of reviewers, including moderators, chairs, and CITF committee members with tiered, prescribed actions in a standardized, uniform fashion. Meeting attendees were surveyed anonymously after the annual meeting regarding perceived bias. The CITF database was then analyzed and compared to the reports of perceived bias to determine whether the implementation of this comprehensive process had been effective.
Results: In 2011, 68 of 484 presenters (14 %) disclosed relationships with commercial interests. In 2012, 173 of 523 presenters (33.5 %) disclosed relationships, with 49 having prior review (9.4 %), and eight required alteration. In 2013, 190 of 454 presenters disclosed relationships (41.9 %), with 93 presentations receiving prior review (20.4 %), and 20 presentations were altered. From 2008 to 2010, the perceived bias among attendees surveyed was 4.7, 6.2, and 4.4 %; and in 2011-2013, was 2.2, 1.2, and 1.5 %.
Conclusion: It is possible to have a surgical meeting that includes participation of speakers that have industry relationships, and minimize perceived bias.