Objective: To assess industry payments to physician journal editors, and determine how their financial conflict of interest rate compares to all physicians within the specialty.
Study Design and Setting: Open Payments is a United States federal program that mandates reporting of medical industry payments to physicians. We performed a retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data, reviewing August 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016 payments using the Open Payments search tool. We collected payments data on “top tier” US-based physician-editors of highly-cited medical journals including 1) total general payments from industry, 2) total “direct” research payments, and 3) associated “indirect” research funding. We compared payments to physician-editors and payments to physicians-by-specialty using existing published data.
Results: In 35 journals, 333 (74.5%) of 447 “top tier” editors met inclusion criteria as US-based physician-editors. Of these, 212 (63.7%) received any industry-associated payments in the study period. In an average year during the study period, 141 (42.3%) of physician-editors received any payments directed to themselves (rather than their institutions), 120 (36.0%) received payments >$50; 66 (19.8%) received payments >$5,000 (the threshold designated by the National Institutes of Health as a Significant Financial Interest); and 51 (15.3%) received payments >$10,000. Mean annual payment of "total general payments" was $55,157 (standard deviation 561,885, range 10-10,981,153) with median of $3,512. Median general industry payments to physician-editors were mostly higher compared to all physicians within their specialty.
Conclusions: A substantial minority of physician-editors receive direct payments from industry within any given year, though most editors received payment of some kind in the study period. There were significant outliers. More robust and specific editor financial COI declarations may be appropriate given the extent of editors’ influences on the medical literature.