Cracking down on conflicts of interest

This was a watershed year for the practice of cozying up to doctors with everything from pens to exotic trips and fat consulting contracts. During 2008, not only did many academic institutions ban such gifts from pharma and medical device companies--down to the smallest pen in some cases--state legislators have taken aim at the practice, too.

Under pressure from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Cleveland Clinic and University of Pennsylvania decided to list potential conflicts of interest online. And Emory University wished it had done something like that after it was revealed that psychiatry department chair Dr. Charles Nemeroff had failed to report nearly $1.6 million in consulting fees that he had earned over the last several years. Emory investigated the reports and ended up permanently removing Nemeroff's chairmanship, in addition to other punishments.

And the worry about conflicts of interest spread even further than clinics and universities: the FDA tightened its rules, and the NIH was criticized for its relative lack of oversight. Even the Psychiatric Times volunteered to disclose conflicts of interest within its editorial board!