Background: Financial relationships between organizations that produce clinical practice guidelines and biomedical companies are vulnerable to conflicts of interest. We sought to determine whether organizations that produce clinical practice guidelines have financial relationships with biomedical companies and whether there are associations between organizations' conflict of interest policies and recommendations and disclosures provided in guidelines.
Methods and findings: We conducted a cross-sectional survey and review of websites of 95 national/international medical organizations that produced 290 clinical practice guidelines published on the National Guideline Clearinghouse website from January 1 to December 31, 2012. Survey responses were available for 68% (65/95) of organizations (167/290 guidelines, 58%), and websites were reviewed for 100% (95/95) of organizations (290/290 guidelines, 100%). In all, 63% (60/95) of organizations producing clinical practice guidelines reported receiving funds from a biomedical company; 80% (76/95) of organizations reported having a policy for managing conflicts of interest. Disclosure statements (disclosing presence or absence of financial relationships with biomedical companies) were available in 65% (188/290) of clinical practice guidelines for direct funding sources to produce the guideline, 51% (147/290) for financial relationships of the guideline committee members, and 1% (4/290) for financial relationships of the organizations producing the guidelines. Among all guidelines, 6% (18/290) disclosed direct funding by biomedical companies, 40% (117/290) disclosed financial relationships between committee members and biomedical companies (38% of guideline committee members, 773/2,043), and 1% (4/290) disclosed financial relationships between the organizations producing the guidelines and biomedical companies. In the survey responses, 60 organizations reported the procedures that they included in their conflict of interest policies (158 guidelines): guidelines produced by organizations reporting more comprehensive conflict of interest policies (per additional procedure, range 5-17) included fewer positive (rate ratio [RR] 0.91, 95% CI 0.86-0.95) and more negative (RR 1.32, 95% CI 1.09-1.60) recommendations regarding patented biomedical products. The clinical practice guidelines produced by organizations reporting more comprehensive conflict of interest policies were also more likely to include disclosure statements for direct funding sources (odds ratio [OR] 1.31, 95% CI 1.10-1.56) and financial relationships of guideline committee members (OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.09-1.79), but not financial relationships of the organizations (0 disclosures). Limitations of the study include the use of the National Guideline Clearinghouse as the single source of clinical practice guidelines and the self-report of survey responses and organizations' website postings.
Conclusions: Financial relationships between organizations that produce clinical practice guidelines and biomedical companies are common and infrequently disclosed in guidelines. Our study highlights the need for an effective policy to manage organizational conflicts of interest and disclosure of financial relationships.