Systematic review finds that appraisal tools for medical research studies address conflicts of interest superficially

J Clin Epidemiol. 2020 Apr;120:104-115. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2019.12.005. Epub 2019 Dec 3.


Objectives: The objective of this study was to identify and summarize 1) appraisal tools and other guides which address conflicts of interest in medical research studies; and 2) top journals with policies on managing conflicts of interest in journal papers.

Study design and setting: We searched bibliographic databases, other sources, and websites of 30 top medical journals. Two authors selected documents and extracted data.

Results: We included 27 appraisal tools. None were designed specifically for addressing conflicts of interest and they included only 1-2 short items on conflicts of interest. We also included eight other types of guides. Of 27 appraisal tools, 23 addressed study funding, and 19 authors' conflicts of interest. Nine tools addressed availability of conflicts of interest information, 13 reported conflicts of interest, and five influence from conflicts of interest. Twelve of 30 top journals had conflicts of interest managing policies (beyond disclosure). One journal restricted nonresearch papers (e.g., editorials) to authors without financial conflicts of interest and ten only restricted under certain circumstances.

Conclusion: Appraisal tools that address conflicts of interest typically do so superficially and rarely address how conflicts of interest may influence studies. Less than half of top medical journals have explicit policies on managing conflicts of interest.

Keywords: Conflicts of interest; Critical appraisal tools; Industry funding; Journal policies; Medical journals; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Editorial Policies*
  • Humans