Saturday, June 16, 2007

How Lawyers' Ads Hurt Patients

We don't try to provide breaking news on this blog. It's beyond our capacity -- if we want to keep our day jobs, as practicing lawyers.

But we sure do like to kibbitz.

Here goes.

On Wednesday, Eli Lilly & Co. released the results of a survey of 402 psychiatrists who treat patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. More than half of the psychiatrists believed that their patients who stopped taking medication or reduced their dosage did so after seeing lawyers' advertisements disparaging anti-psychotic drugs. (Click here for the report about the study on law.com and here for commentary from PointOfLaw.com.) Patients' medical care thus suffered because of lawyers' advertisements.

We're not surprised. Some patients will be convinced when they read about the supposed ill effects of drugs and will stop taking the drugs. Film at 11.

Here's what we want to add to the debate: We don't think that the damage stops there. Yes, lawyer ads may cause patients to stop taking medications that they need. But we think plaintiffs' lawyers also sometimes actually cause their clients to suffer pain.

We're thinking about cases where plaintiffs' lawyers suggest to their clients that they may be in pain:

Did you receive breast implants? They can cause your joints to ache. Do your joints ache?

Were pedicle screws used in your spinal fusion surgery? They can cause people's backs to hurt. Does your back hurt?

We're big believers in the power of suggestion. When electric streetlights were first installed (at the turn of the last century), rumors were rampant that exposure to the lights caused illnesses. And people became ill because of the power of suggestion.

An elementary school teacher of one of your humble scribes had our sixth grade class run an experiment. At the teacher's suggestion, on one day we each asked one particular classmate whether she felt okay, because she didn't look so good.

Before lunch, she went to the nurse's office and was sent home ill.

We suspect -- although we can't prove it -- that many people read lawyers' ads disparaging a certain medical treatment, visit lawyers, and then legitimately become convinced (through the power of suggestion) that they're ill.

What of it?

First, we'd like to know if we're right. Perhaps some scholar can figure out a way to test our thesis.

Second, if it turns out that we're right, then aggressive defense counsel might consider impleading plaintiffs' counsel as third party defendants in certain injury cases. The defendant's product did not in fact cause the harm, the third party complaint would say. Rather, plaintiff's counsel's suggestive comments caused the plaintiff to believe that he or she was hurt; plaintiff's counsel is thus the true cause of the injury.

Oh, brave new world that hath such concepts in it.

1 comment:

DA MD said...

A study (which I will try to find and link after this post)was published in the last few years indicated that morbidity and mortality was significantly higher in plaintiffs involved in long drawn out litigation even after controlling for confounding factors (like more severe injuries tending to litigate, etc.) That increased "suffering" was thought to be due to suggestion, and to playing the "role" as injured plaintiff... as well as to NOT getting on with your life.

I believe it was linked on point of law or overlawyered.