Conflicts of interest: new thinking, new processes

Paul A. Komesaroff, Ian Kerridge, Wendy Lipworth

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Although the concept of ‘conflict of interest’ (COI) arises in many contexts in healthcare, it is often poorly understood, and commonly accepted, definitions are often circular, self-contradictory and unable to provide procedural guidance. To overcome such confusion and imprecision, we offer a reformulation of COI that carefully defines interests, clarifies their scope and articulates a simple, non-punitive approach to managing them. We define an ‘interest’ as ‘a commitment, goal, obligation or duty related to a particular social role or practice’. We show how in a particular setting multiple interests can be at play, which can be either financial or non-financial, with the latter often being the most potent drivers of behaviour. We define a ‘conflict of interest’ as the condition that arises when two coexisting interests directly conflict with each other: that is, when they are likely to compel contrary and incompatible outcomes. COI therefore reflect objective states of affairs rather than internal mental states; they do not imply moral error; and they are identified through public rather than private processes involving ethical dialogues among relevant stakeholders. Once a COI has been identified, responses must be determined based on the seriousness of the conflict and the conditions that generated it. Such responses may be minimal or they may require a formal disengagement from one of the conflicting interests. The framework described, reflects the rich diversity of interests in modern societies, is universally applicable and provides simple, readily applicable guidelines for the identification and management of conflicts arising between them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)574-577
    Number of pages4
    JournalInternal Medicine Journal
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May 2019


    • conflicts of interest
    • guidelines
    • interest, ethics
    • non-pecuniary interest

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