Conflicts of interest in psychiatry: Strategies to cultivate literacy in daily practice

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The relationship between psychiatry and pharmaceutical companies has come under scrutiny during the past decade. Concerns are growing that financial ties of psychiatrists to the pharmaceutical industry may unduly influence professional judgments involving the primary interests of patients. Such conflicts of interest threaten the public trust in psychiatry. The goal of conflict of interest policies is to protect the integrity of professional judgment and to preserve public trust. The disclosure of individual and institutional financial relationships is a critical but limited first step in the process of identifying and responding to conflicts of interest. Conflict of interest policies and procedures can be strengthened by engaged psychiatrists, researchers, institutions, and professional associations in developing policies and consensus standards. Research on conflicts of interest can provide a stronger evidence base for policy design and implementation. Society has traditionally granted the medical profession considerable autonomy and may be willing to continue do so in the case of conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, concern is growing that stronger measures are needed. To avoid undue regulatory burdens, psychiatrists can play a vital role in designing responsible and reasonable conflict of interest policies that reduce the risks of bias and the loss of trust. Psychiatrists and the institutions that carry out research, education, clinical care, and practice guideline development must recognize public concerns about conflicts of interest and take effective measures soon to maintain public trust with a cultural change in the practice of psychiatry, from reactive treatment-seeking for mental illness to proactive advocacy for patients.

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