Sponsored Conference

You have developed expertise in hyperlipidemia. You have been asked to speak at a conference and present a paper on a nutrition treatment of hyperlipidemia. After agreeing to speak, you receive the conference materials and learn that each session has a corporate sponsor. A yogurt company sponsors your session. Is there a problem?

One dilemma in this situation is whether you are using your professional status to implicitly endorse the yogurt company. You want to avoid a situation where you felt pressured to slant a presentation in a way in order to avoid upsetting the sponsor. There might be an inference of influence over the content of the paper if, for example, the yogurt company's logo was on your paper or handouts. To a large extent, the perception of conflict would depend on:

  • how the sponsorship was portrayed before, during and after the conference;
  • how much influence the sponsor had or appeared to have over the content of the presentation; and
  • what other safeguards were in place?

Additional information would clarify the situation. A possible safeguard might be a disclaimer in the written materials indicating that you had no connection with the sponsor. The organizers of the conference could also be approached to ensure that there was no actual or perceived influence of the sponsor over the content of the presentation.

Depending on the circumstances, the concerns can probably be successfully managed through the DORM Principle:

  • Disclosure: at the earliest opportunity, dietitians should disclose the nature of the conflict to the client;
  • Options: inform the client of his/her alternatives and assist in arranging for alternatives where requested;
  • Reassurance: reassure clients that choosing another product or service will not affect the quality of the professional services to them;
  • Modification: making small modifications can remove or greatly reduce the potential for conflict of interest.