As a physician, I strive to communicate openly and transparently with my patients. Building trust is a critical component in any treatment protocol – whether patients are navigating a life-threatening or debilitating illness, or one that is persistent and chronic.
Too many times, however, trust in the doctor-patient relationship erodes when a patient sees or hears information that effectively misleads them about their treatment in an advertisement paid for by personal injury lawyers.
Thankfully, the Legislature this year approved Senate Bill 1189 to protect Texans from such deception. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new law that will prohibit certain statements and require warnings and disclosures for legal services advertisements, and ultimately penalize those who violate the rules. The measure, which had the support of the Partnership to Protect Patient Health coalition, took effect Sept. 1.
Kudos to policymakers for taking this stand; it’s a great step, because this type of misleading advertising has simply gotten out of hand.
Personal injury lawyer ads with terms such as “medical alert,” “public service announcement” or “drug alert” have proliferated in recent years. For example, from October to December 2018, television viewers in the Houston, Dallas and San Antonio markets alone saw more than 132,000 advertisements for legal services, according to an American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) report. These lawsuit ads far outnumbered those for pizza or hardware stores. In many instances, such advertising used innuendo or misleading information to scare people about unproven medical risks or threats to their health.
The expansion of such advertising can have a serious impact on patients. A 2016 survey of Texas doctors by Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse found 66% of physicians surveyed said patients have questioned their recommended course of treatment, citing concerns about claims they saw in a lawsuit ad. Eight out of 10 doctors surveyed said these types of ads could lead patients to discontinue their medical treatments.
Spending for lawsuit ads also has grown.
ATRA found that an average of one legal services ad aired locally every minute across Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio media markets in the fourth quarter of 2018. From October through December 2018, an estimated $16.4 million in lawsuit ads aired – up $1.3 million from the prior quarter.
It is critical that a patient consult her or his doctor before changing any prescribed treatment, and it certainly should not change based on a TV advertisement by a personal injury lawyer. That’s common sense, but personal injury lawyer ads are aimed at scaring consumers.
As of Sept. 1, lawsuit ads relating to pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices are required to state that consumers should not discontinue medication until speaking to a physician, among other consumer protection language. In addition, ads are not allowed to display logos of federal or state agencies in a manner suggesting the advertisement was presented by such an agency. And these ads will disclose they are paid advertisements for legal services, among other requirements.
My priority is the health of each one of my patients. My many years of training and continuing education to learn about new treatment protocols and new procedures are all aimed at improving my patients’ lives. Collaboration, built on a foundation of open communication and trust is paramount. With this new law, consumers will be better armed when they see or hear healthcare-related ads paid for by personal injury lawyers. That’s good news because, as we all know, patients shouldn’t let lawyers be their doctors.
Dr. Christine L. Canterbury, M.D., specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Corpus Christi Women’s Clinic and also is past-President of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.