Non-financial conflicts of interest: contribution to a surgical dilemma by the European Reference Networks for Rare Diseases

Pediatr Surg Int. 2019 Sep;35(9):999-1004. doi: 10.1007/s00383-019-04516-y. Epub 2019 Jul 5.


Purpose: Conflicts of interest can impede both research and medical treatment. The European Reference Networks require their members to deal with financial and non-financial conflicts according to an explicit protocol. In a literature review, we identified relevant interests in paediatric surgery, and drafted such a policy.

Methods: We conducted a Pubmed query and identified additional publications based on the content of the papers.

Results: 58 titles were identified. According to their abstracts, 10 publications were studied in full text. A scientific taxonomy does not yet exist, but a variety of factors are mentioned. Non-financial conflicts of interest are addressed less accurately and less frequently than financial ones, especially regarding surgical treatment. Since the clinical effect of surgical volume was identified as being relevant, additional 29 respective publications were analysed. This volume-quality relationship causes conflicts of interest for the many surgeons treating a broad spectrum of rare conditions. We present a recommendation that may guide referral of patients requiring complex surgery to centres with a higher volume.

Conclusions: Non-financial conflicts of interest need to be dealt with more accuracy, especially with regard to surgery in rare, complex congenital conditions. The European Reference Networks offer a framework to mitigate these conflicts.

Keywords: Anorectal malformation; Congenital malformation; European Reference Networks; Non-financial conflict of interest; Patient organisation; Volume-outcome relationship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Disclosure / standards
  • Europe
  • General Surgery / standards*
  • Humans
  • Pediatrics / standards*
  • Rare Diseases