Conflicts of interest held by researchers remain a focus of attention in clinical research. Biases related to these relationships have the potential to directly impact the quality of healthcare by influencing decision-making, yet conflicts of interest remain under-reported, inconsistently described, and difficult to access. Initiatives aimed at improving the disclosure of researcher conflicts of interest are still in their infancy but represent a vital reform that must be addressed before potential biases associated with conflicts of interest can be mitigated, and trust in the impartiality of clinical evidence restored. In this review, we examine the prevalence of conflicts of interest, evidence of the effects that disclosed and undisclosed conflicts of interest have had on the reporting of clinical evidence, and the emerging approaches for improving the completeness and consistency of disclosures. Through this review of emerging technologies, we recognize a growing interest in publicly-accessible registries for researcher conflicts of interest, and propose five desiderata aimed at maximizing the value of such registries: mandates for ensuring that researchers keep their records up to date; transparent records that are made available to the public; interoperability to allow researchers, bibliographic databases, and institutions to interact with the registry; a consistent taxonomy for describing different classes of conflicts of interest, and the ability to automatically generate conflicts of interest statements for use in published articles.
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