Sponsorship of research and education occurs commonly in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and food and drink industries. This sponsorship is a conflict of interest, creating a situation where there may be bias in favour of the sponsors’ interests. General practitioners (GPs) need to be aware of potential conflicts of interest in industry-sponsored research and education.
The aim of this article is to alert GPs to the risk of bias in research and education funded by for-profit organisations, and to provide strategies to avoid being influenced by information that may be biased.
Types of bias known to be associated with industry sponsorship include: methodological bias, where there is a systematic error in the design, conduct or analysis of the study such that it deviates from the truth; agenda bias, where study topics align with increased use of industry products; publication and reporting bias, where unfavourable studies or results are suppressed or omitted; and marketing bias, where supportive evidence is preferentially disseminated and sympathetic opinion leaders are given a broad platform. Industry influence can be reduced by seeking out independent reviews and avoiding industry-funded educational events.