Physician Journal Editors and the Open Payments Program

Victoria S. S. Wong,1,2 Lauro Nathaniel Avalos,3 Michael L. Callaham3

Objective Open Payments is a federal program in the United States that requires reporting of medical industry payments to physicians. We examined this data to assess industry payments to physician journal editors, hypothesizing that physician journal editors would have a low rate of financial conflicts of interest (COI).

Design This was a retrospective study. We chose the top 5 representative and highly-cited clinical journals within each of these medical categories/specialties: general medicine, neurology, surgery, cardiology, and psychiatry. We systematically reviewed mastheads of 25 journals, identifying “top tier” editors who were considered senior within the editorial hierarchy. Our inclusion criteria aimed to target editors who were directly responsible for making manuscript decisions and avoid members who did not directly handle manuscripts. We were unable to confirm each editor’s role with their journals. We identified US-based physician editors and searched for industry payments to them using the publicly available Open Payments search tool. Data collected included general and research payments and ownership/investment records from August 1, 2013 (the start of the reporting requirement) to December 31, 2015.

Results Of 351 “top tier” editors of 25 journals, 246 (70%) met inclusion criteria as physician editors based at a US institution (mean, 9.8 editors per journal; SD, 9.8; range: 1-26). Of these, 160 (65%) received industry payments of any kind during the 29-month period. Eighty editors (33%) received direct payments (not to their institution) of $5000 or more within a year, which met the threshold designated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a significant financial interest (SFI). One hundred forty-nine editors (61%) received general industry payments (Table). The mean (SD) general industry payment to physician editors was $37,225 ($128,545) for the 29-month period while the median was $2564. The mean (SD) total research payment made directly to physician editors was $12,493 ($34,710) with a median of $1075. The mean (SD) research payment to the institution where physician editors were named as principle investigator on a research project (associated research payments) was $105,283 ($176,650) with a median of $25,256. An additional $12,766,532 paid over 3 ownership/investment transactions was reported; the bulk of this was in a single $12,736,276 declaration of stock ownership, held by an immediate family member.

Conclusions Median direct industry payments to physician journal editors are generally low and do not surpass the SFI threshold designated by the NIH, suggesting overall low levels of financial COI. However, there are outliers, as evidenced by the high standard deviations from the mean values. Editor financial COI declarations may be appropriate given the extent of influence editors have on the medical literature.

1The Queen’s Medical Center Neuroscience Institute, Honolulu, Hawaii, vwongmd@gmail.com; 2University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI; 3University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Callaham receives fees from the American College of Emergency Physicians to edit their peer reviewed journal. No other disclosures were reported.

Funding/Support: None reported.

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