Conflicts of Interest – More Pervasive and Problematic Than We Think

January 30, 2009 BY danariely

Here’s a very interesting piece from the New York Times’ Review of Books: “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption.”

The basic story is that whereas only a few decades ago physicians generally lacked any lucrative ties to pharmaceutical companies, these days such conflicts of interest permeate the field, and debase it.

Take the example of Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, the psychiatry department chair at Emory University. He received a NIMH grant to study drugs made by GlaxoSmithKline AND at the same time he also got $500,000 in fees from GlaxoSmithKline. Talk about a conflict of interest!

That’s not the only egregious case – there are many.  As it turns out a recent survey found that about two thirds of academic medical centers hold equity interest in companies that sponsor research within the same institution… And here is another one:  Of the 170 contributors to the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), ninety-five had financial ties to drug companies.  The top dogs aside, many physicians accept hefty salaries to consult for drug companies, and most accept pharmaceutical gifts like pens and free lunches.

So the medical profession is teeming with conflicts of interest – but it doesn’t stop there. Look at politics, wall street, consulting — it is everywhere and I worry that unless we  understand just how big this problem is,  we are not going to deal with it.