Conflict of interest (COI) as it applies to medical education and training has become a source of considerable interest, debate, and regulation in the last decade. Companies often pay surgeons as faculty for educational events and often sponsor and give financial support to major professional society meetings. Professional medical societies, industry, and legislators have attempted to regulate potential COI without consideration for public opinion. The practice of evidence-based medicine requires the inclusion of patient opinion along with best available evidence and expert opinion. The primary goal of this study was to assess the opinion of the general population regarding surgeon-industry COI for education-related events.
A Web-based survey was administered, with special emphasis on the surgeon's role in industry-sponsored education and support of professional societies. A survey was constructed to sample opinions on reimbursement, disclosure, and funding sources for educational events.
There were 501 completed surveys available for analysis. More than 90% of respondents believed that industry funding for surgeons' tuition and travel for either industry-sponsored or professional society educational meetings would either not affect the quality of care delivered or would cause it to improve. Similar results were generated for opinions on surgeons being paid by industry to teach other surgeons. Moreover, the majority of respondents believed it was ethical or had no opinion if surgeons had such a relationship with industry. Respondents were also generally in favor of educational conferences for surgeons regardless of funding source. Disclosures of a surgeon-industry relationship, especially if it involves specific devices that may be used in their surgery, appears to be important to respondents.
The vast majority of respondents in this study do not believe that the quality of their care will be diminished due to industry funding of educational events, for surgeon tuition, and/or travel expenses. The results of this study should help form the basis of policy and continued efforts at surgeon-industry COI management.