Three Harvard Psychiatrists Reprimanded

I have a bit of good news to relay. Dr. Joseph Biederman, a man who was largely responsible for the recent bipolar baby boom we have yet to marginally recover from, and two of his Harvard cronies, has been sanctioned for having violated conflict of interests rules. This action was covered by the Boston Globe in a story, Harvard doctors punished over pay.

Concluding a three-year investigation, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School sanctioned renowned child psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman and two colleagues after finding they violated conflict of interest rules.

The other two violators in this matter are Dr. Thomas Spencer and Dr. Timothy Wilens. The doctors have responded to the sanctions by sending out a letter of apolegy. This letter offers some details into their punishment.

They said the institutions imposed remedial actions, requiring them to refrain from all paid industry-sponsored outside activities for one year, with an additional two-year monitoring period during which they must obtain approval before engaging in paid activities. They were also required to undergo unspecified additional training and suffer “a delay of consideration for promotion or advancement.’’

The bad news is that this punishment may not amount to all that much.

“It’s hard for me to make that judgment, but this all sounds like a little slap on the wrist,’’ said Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a Tufts University School of Medicine professor and outspoken critic of close ties between the drug industry and physicians. He pointed out that Biederman is a full professor at Harvard Medical School, so it’s unclear how a delay in promotion or advancement would affect him. Also, Biederman severed his industry ties soon after Mass. General and Harvard began their separate but coordinated investigations.

Adding to the good news, on the other hand, this decision also sends a clear message to professors of psychiatry that it is not alright to lie to institutions of higher learning about the extent of their financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. It is hoped that this decision will help doctors put human health considerations back, in a hierarchy of values, above drug company kick backs, investments, and favors, where they belong.