Friday, April 06, 2012

Bad Apples

Admittedly there are going to be bad apples in every barrel. And I have to admit, I have an inherent bias of the law profession, as many of my experiences with lawyers stem from them asking me to be an expert witness for the plaintiff in some (often unfounded) lawsuit (which I kindly refuse).
But I was particularly mad when I saw Mr. J yesterday. He was an 79 year old man with pretty decently controlled diabetes for the last several years. Did so well that I told him I could see him just once a year. And so, I was surprised to find his hemoglobin A1c suddenly higher than his norm at 9%; after all, he has never had a higher-than-7 reading in the 4 years I have known him. Until he told me the reason; he stopped taking his diabetic medication 5 months ago. Without discussing with me, or his GP. The reason was, this poor elderly man was scared out of his wits by the 5 or 6 lawyers who called him out of the blue, asking him to join them in a lawsuit against the maker of his medication.
You probably know which one I'm referring to, after some studies associating bladder cancer to this drug. Though 'association' does not equate a causal relationship. And as what I tell all my patients: All drugs have potential benefits and risks. What about the thousands of patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis whose livers benefited from this medication? But never mind- it's a decision I let my patients make, if they choose to remain on it.
What I was particularly mad about, was how these greedy lawyers were hounding my patient. He had received calls, from no fewer than 5 different lawyers, in the last 8 months. And because a patient's medical history is strictly protected information, it's clear that someone has been doing something illegal: someone in his chain of healthcare was sharing with these law firms the names and phone numbers of patients taking this medication.
There'll be bad apples in every barrel. Indeed, we all know of even bad or unethical doctors. But this seems to take it up one level.
After much discussion, Mr. J resumed his meds, and we plan to see him back in 3 months- hopefully with his diabetes under better control then. But I suggested to him that the next call he gets from a lawyer, he should challenge them and ask how they got his information.
For someone needs to be accountable for this.


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