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Conflicts of interest in clinical guidelines, advisory committee reports, opinion pieces, and narrative reviews: associations with recommendations

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BACKGROUND: Treatment and diagnostic recommendations are often made in clinical guidelines, reports from advisory committee meetings, opinion pieces such as editorials, and narrative reviews. Quite often, the authors or members of advisory committees have industry ties or particular specialty interests which may impact on which interventions are recommended. Similarly, clinical guidelines and narrative reviews may be funded by industry sources resulting in conflicts of interest.

OBJECTIVES: To investigate to what degree financial and non-financial conflicts of interest are associated with favourable recommendations in clinical guidelines, advisory committee reports, opinion pieces, and narrative reviews.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Methodology Register for studies published up to February 2020. We also searched reference lists of included studies, Web of Science for studies citing the included studies, and grey literature sources.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included studies comparing the association between conflicts of interest and favourable recommendations of drugs or devices (e.g. recommending a particular drug) in clinical guidelines, advisory committee reports, opinion pieces, or narrative reviews.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently included studies, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. When a meta-analysis was considered meaningful to synthesise our findings, we used random-effects models to estimate risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs), with RR > 1 indicating that documents (e.g. clinical guidelines) with conflicts of interest more often had favourable recommendations. We analysed associations for financial and non-financial conflicts of interest separately, and analysed the four types of documents both separately (pre-planned analyses) and combined (post hoc analysis).

MAIN RESULTS: We included 21 studies analysing 106 clinical guidelines, 1809 advisory committee reports, 340 opinion pieces, and 497 narrative reviews. We received unpublished data from 11 studies; eight full data sets and three summary data sets. Fifteen studies had a risk of confounding, as they compared documents that may differ in other aspects than conflicts of interest (e.g. documents on different drugs used for different populations). The associations between financial conflicts of interest and favourable recommendations were: clinical guidelines, RR: 1.26, 95% CI: 0.93 to 1.69 (four studies of 86 clinical guidelines); advisory committee reports, RR: 1.20, 95% CI: 0.99 to 1.45 (four studies of 629 advisory committee reports); opinion pieces, RR: 2.62, 95% CI: 0.91 to 7.55 (four studies of 284 opinion pieces); and narrative reviews, RR: 1.20, 95% CI: 0.97 to 1.49 (four studies of 457 narrative reviews). An analysis combining all four document types supported these findings (RR: 1.26, 95% CI: 1.09 to 1.44). One study investigating specialty interests found that the association between including radiologist guideline authors and recommending routine breast cancer screening was RR: 2.10, 95% CI: 0.92 to 4.77 (12 clinical guidelines).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: We interpret our findings to indicate that financial conflicts of interest are associated with favourable recommendations of drugs and devices in clinical guidelines, advisory committee reports, opinion pieces, and narrative reviews. However, we also stress risk of confounding in the included studies and the statistical imprecision of individual analyses of each document type. It is not certain whether non-financial conflicts of interest impact on recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberMR000040
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Volume2020
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)MR000040
ISSN1361-6137
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2020

    Research areas

  • Advisory Committees/ethics, Authorship, Bias, Conflict of Interest/economics, Consultants, Datasets as Topic/ethics, Drug Industry/ethics, Editorial Policies, Equipment and Supplies/ethics, Humans, Practice Guidelines as Topic, Publications/ethics, Radiologists, Review Literature as Topic

ID: 61435361