Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee hearing on “Examining Ethical Responsibilities Regarding Attorney Advertising.”
Chairman Goodlatte: On March 7, 2017, this Committee sent a series of letters regarding the topic of today’s hearing to the American Bar Association, 51 state bars including the District of Columbia, and two companies that aggregate plaintiffs for law firms. Based on the responses that we have received so far from state bars, it appears that there are few if any reported complaints of lawyer misconduct regarding these commercials.
The lack of complaints, however, does not diminish the fact that severe injury and death resulting from these commercials are being reported to the Food and Drug Administration. I would like read from a portion of a statement submitted for today’s hearing from Dr. Frank Peacock of Houston, Texas, who reported one such case. He states:
[M]y patient, being 66 years old, female, with a history of high blood pressure and diabetes, has a 4.8% (~1 in 20) risk of having a stroke within the next year that would leave her debilitated, unable to speak, wearing diapers in a nursing home for the rest of her markedly shortened life, vs taking a pill every day with a risk of a fatal bleed from anticoagulation of 0.0009 per year. To summarize, this patient had a 4.8 annual stroke risk, vs. 0.0009 annual fatal bleeding risk. In medicine, we call this a “no-brainer” and pick the lower of the risks.
So I went tothe patient’s bedside to have what I thought would be a relatively straightforward conversation. Usually this is a 5 minute exchange about what atrial fibrillation is, and what would be the recommended treatment. I answer some questions, write a prescription, move on to the next patient.
That is not how it went. I went to the bedside and told my patient that her test showed she had atrial fibrillation. But instead of her asking me the expected question of “What is Atrial Fibrillation”, she said “I know”. So if she had atrial fibrillation, the obvious next question for me was “What anticoagulant are you taking”. She couldn’t answer me, as she broke down in tears.
When she could talk she related a story that made me so angry that it motivated me to write this testimony today. Wednesday, 4 days before coming to my ER she had felt tired, and weak, and had a fluttering feeling in her chest. She went to her physician who did an electrocardiogram and diagnosed atrial fibrillation. He found the same results as I had, that of a controlled heart rate in a patient with a very high risk of having a massive debilitating stroke. He spent 30 minutes teaching her about atrial fibrillation, the risks, the benefits, the treatment options. Answered her questions, then then gave her a prescription for rivaroxaban and discharged her home.
On Wednesday afternoon my patient filled the prescription, went home, and took rivaroxaban. All was well until Thursday evening, which while watching television that she saw the first 1-800-Bad-Drug commercial that implied that rivaroxaban was a dangerous drug. Having already taken it, as instructed, with dinner, she did not know what to do. She called her doctor, but got an answering service. She called the lawyer firm, who was glad to take her information, but offered no advice. She did not sleep that night.
Friday came and she again called her doctor, but he didn’t have an appointment available until the following week. She called the 1-800-Bad-Drug ad number again, but got no instructions. What to do? Petrified with fear, she did not take her anticoagulant that night.
On Saturday morning, in my ER, I spent an hour talking with this patient. This was an extremely educated, intelligent woman who absolutely felt abused by our system. Her physician of many years, prescribing a drug to save her life, and lawyers coming into her house by the way of her television to destroy the doctor [patient] relationship, and prompt her to engage in behavior that could prove fatal.
My patient left my ER about mid-day. She took her rivaroxaban before she left. Nobody will know what would have happened had she waited to take her anticoagulant. Would she be dead from a massive stroke, or in a nursing home at this very minute? What if it had been a different patient that just listened to the TV and didn’t come to my ER?
Dr. Peacock’s statement shows that these attorney advertisements are having a real-world impact. Not only do they create a barrier between doctors and patients, but they are endangering these patients’ lives. I want to thank our witnesses for appearing today. I look forward to your testimony.
For more on today’s hearing, click here.