Peer-Reviewed Medical Journals Under Fire

Recent scandals about authors’ failure to report conflict of interests called a systemic problem.

Medical journals need to shore up their vetting process to detect physicians who write studies for them but who fail to report conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical and device manufacturers. A joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times also finds that the reporting system has not really improved since it was blasted by the Institute of Medicine nearly a decade ago.

Among other documentation, the publications cite a study published in August in JAMA Surgery which found that only 37% of doctors that researchers looked at in 2015 who received the most payment from medical device makers disclosed conflicts of interest in articles published the next year.

Mehraneh Dorna Jafari, MD, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine and one of the authors of the JAMA Surgery study, tells the Times and ProPublica, that “the system is broken. The journals aren’t checking and the rules are different for every single thing.”

The article also cites individual cases in which prominent physicians failed to report their conflicts of interest. To take just one example, Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, the director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center in Dallas had nothing to disclose as an author of a study about the cancer drug Kisqali published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016. Turns out, though, Arteaga had taken more than $50,000 from drug companies, including more than $14,000 from Novartis, which makes Kisqali.

“In an email, Arteaga described the omission as an ‘inexcusable oversight and error on my part,’ and subsequently submitted a correction,” the Times and ProPublica reports.

For their part, “Journal editors say they are introducing changes that will better standardize disclosures and reduce errors,” the Times and ProPublica writes. “But some have also argued that since most researchers follow the rules, stringent new requirements would be costly and unnecessary.”

One the other hand, “To clarify reporting requirements, several publications are attempting only now to do what the Institute of Medicine recommended in 2009,” the Times and ProPublica reports. For instance, the New England Journal of Medicine “is testing a new system in partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges that would act as a central repository for reporting financial relationships.”