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More transparency, please

Posted Sep 01 2009 3:50pm

In the past few years, we’ve seen a shift in the healthcare industry toward transparency. This move toward disclosure by healthcare organizations and suppliers benefits today’s educated consumers in particular as they seek information on the ties and potential conflicts of interest by those responsible for their wellbeing.

Last week we discussed the possibility of a new public database disclosing financial ties between physicians and pharmaceutical and/or medical device companies. Now, in a recently published paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, advocates are urging for similar transparencies in clinical trial research. “When enrolling patients in a clinical trial, researchers should disclose relevant financial relationships that might affect a patient’s decision about participation.”

The authors of the paper provide straightforward guidelines for organizations in “the spirit and intent of disclosure.” Such policies and practices must be clear and simple. And patients must not be solely responsible for evaluating these relationships; oversight committees, review boards and other authorities should have responsibility as well. Patients considering participation in a clinical trial have a right to know, say the study authors, what financial ties the trial’s doctors may have (stock in the company, patent interests, etc.), how the research groups would be determined and who would have access to the data, among other things.

Openly sharing such information through disclosure guidelines is morally required. When patients are able to make educated decisions, this also builds patient trust. As lead author Kevin Weinfurt, Ph.D., states, “The public is increasingly demanding transparency, but if our disclosure system isn’t accomplishing what we hope it will, then we may need to change it.”

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