The Effect of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Plastic Surgery Literature

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Medical research has a long history of joint venture between commercial entities and nonindustry researchers. Significant concern exists among accrediting bodies for medical education and federal granting agencies that conflicts of interest (COIs) exist that affect the validity of the research. This study evaluates the legitimacy of this concern.

All clinical breast and cosmetic articles in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Annals of Plastic Surgery were reviewed for calendar year 2013. If a financial disclosure was present, the article was then reviewed to determine if the subject/findings were in favor of the commercial conflict and, if so, whether the study was valid. To assess plastic surgery versus other specialties, articles from Dermatology and Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery were similarly reviewed from January to April of 2013.

Two hundred seventy-two clinical articles were reviewed. Only 15 (5.5%) had a true COI: the article’s findings favored the commercial interest of at least 1 author: for each journal, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 7.7%; Annals of Plastic Surgery, 3.3%; Dermatology, 2.2%; Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 7.5%. Conflicts of interest were not statistically significant between pooled articles of plastic surgery versus dermatology/orthopedics. However, COI was statistically greater (P = 0.05) in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery compared with Annals and Dermatology.

Despite public and regulatory concerns, this assessment demonstrates that the peer-review process of leading journals polices true COIs. Published articles provide sound research despite presumed COIs. As such, the integrity and validity of published research remain high.

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