Published on:

It is routine practice for drug developers to pay doctors hundreds of millions of dollars a year to “educate” their fellow physicians about a company drug, in the hopes that they will consider prescribing the drug to patients. These “pill-pushing” payouts are extremely controversial. Critics of the pharmaceutical industry say the payments are nothing more than bribes that endanger patients by encouraging doctors to promote unauthorized uses of drugs that may have harmful effects. Drug companies claim that the payments are necessary to cover the cost of conducting expensive clinical research, such as diagnostic testing.

This week, some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world disclosed the amount of money they paid to doctors and other health care professionals in 2010. Pfizer, Inc. spent the most: $177 million, with a majority of the payments going towards clinical research trials and related work. GlaxoSmithKline’s research spending totaled $28.5 million, with another $56.8 million going to doctors that performed speaking and advisory work. Drug maker Merck & Co. paid $20.4 million to more than 2,000 physicians that discussed the company’s products with other health care professional.

Although Pfizer was required to disclose their numbers as part of an off-label marketing settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the other drug companies posted their numbers voluntarily. This is part of a movement towards greater transparency about the commercial links between industry and health care professionals. By 2013, disclosures will be mandatory under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Although many of these payments serve a valid purpose and provide doctors with better information to address patient’s needs, disclosure is critical. Patients need to be aware that the drugs they are prescribed may actually benefit their doctors’ pockets more than their own health.

Published on:

A simple apology can go a long way….but in some courtrooms it can actually be used against a physician that seeks to admit guilt for a medical mistake.

The Detroit News recently reported that Michigan is close to joining Illinois and more than 30 other states in passing an “I’m Sorry” law, which allows healthcare providers to apologize and disclose mistakes without the risk that their comments will be used against them in court.

Under the new legislation, a physician or healthcare provider can express his sympathy for a patient and even write a note explaining how sorry he is about the outcome without that communication later being used as an admission of guilt in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Proponents of the new law say that it will encourage more compassionate communication between doctors and patients and minimize costly lawsuits brought on by anger or suspicion that a doctor is not being honest about a medical mistake.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the state House of Representatives and heads back to the Senate. If passed, the law would take effect immediately. Because goodwill for doctors and lower legal bills are in the interest of both doctors and patients, the law could be a win-win for all parties involved.

Published on:

One of the most basic tenets of our democratic system is liberty and justice for all. When American citizens suffer a miscarriage of justice, courts often step in to provide a much-needed remedy for the pain and suffering caused at the hands of irresponsible parties. But the vital protection that this system provides is under attack from large corporations that are trying to take away rights from the victims that they harm.

A group of insurance companies and other big businesses are pushing legislation that would limit the amount of damages a medical malpractice victim could receive. This self-serving move only adds to the pain that so many vulnerable patients have suffered by preventing them from recovering the full compensation that they deserve.

Caps on damages and higher burdens of proof are just a couple of ways that large companies are trying to limit the power of juries. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R. Ga.) recently introduced legislation that would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 and make punitive damages impossible. This would effectively result in a windfall for insurance companies and take away from severely injured parties who need compensation the most. Ironically, Gingrey himself sought punitive damages for injuries that he suffered in a car crash back in 2004.

With preventable medical errors killing almost 100,000 Americans a year, the health industry needs more pressure- not more excuses- to take responsibility for the consequences of their negligent behavior. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins law firm will continue to strongly advocate on behalf of injured medical malpractice victims in Illinois and across the country to ensure that they maintain the rights they are entitled to.

Published on:

As Americans age, they are often vulnerable to illnesses that threaten their quality of life. Preventative screenings and regular immunizations are critical tools to protect seniors from unnecessary illness. However, a new government study shows that many older adults are putting their health in serious jeopardy by not getting the services they need to prevent disease.

According to a report by several U.S. Department of Health and Human Service agencies, few seniors are getting recommended pneumococcal vaccinations against influenza, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and meningitis. Elderly Americans are also inadequately screening for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis.

This trend is most prevalent among elderly minority groups. More than half of all Hispanic seniors and nearly half of all African-American and Asian seniors have never received recommended immunizations or preventive screenings.

It is quite clear that the aging population is steadily growing, yet these proven clinical services remain severely underutilized. The report suggests that many older adults may not be aware of the services that are recommended for their age group, or they may not know that the services are covered by Medicare. Seniors need to take their health into their own hands and take preventative measures to ensure a long and healthy life.

Published on:

The safety of America’s food and medical products is often challenged by consumer watchdog groups advocating on behalf of the public. This time, the warning comes from the Food and Drug Administration itself, who caution that a tainted drug disaster is just waiting to happen.

The public health crisis looming among us is the result of overseas manufacturing. The agency can’t guarantee the safety of many drug and food products that are manufactured outside of the U.S. With 80% of the ingredients used in U.S. drugs coming from other countries, the agency admits that it is crippled in it mission to protect the health of Americans.

One recent incident that illustrates the FDA’s difficulty in monitoring imports is the contaminated blood thinner Heprin that was produced in China and led to more than 100 deaths here in the U.S. Counterfeit Lipitor from Central American and counterfeit glucose monitor test strips also showcase the agency’s inability to operate effectively on a global scale.

John Taylor, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, recently laid out the agency’s plan to react to these global challenges at a conference in Washington D.C. He explained that the next few years will be critical, as the FDA attempts to partner with foreign counterparts to create a global coalition of consumers and boost intelligence gathering.

Published on:

High-calorie, sugary soda drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi may harm more than just your waistline. New research shows that soda may actually cause lung, liver, and thyroid cancers.

The problem, according to government studies, is a certain caramel coloring used in food and soda brands like Coke and Pepsi. These dark colas get their signature hue by mixing sugars with sulfites and ammonia. In a study by the National Toxicology Program, the chemicals produced by this reaction were found to be carcinogens that caused cancers in lab rats or mice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemicals in soda, or at least force manufacturers to put warning labels on their products.

One state has already taken steps to actively respond to the risk. Lawmakers in California are in the process of crafting regulations that may require food and drinks with significant levels of the chemicals to bear cancer warnings.

The FDA is studying the issue and whether there is any risk to humans. Meanwhile, the soda industry denies that the caramel colorings known as Caramel III and IV are carcinogens that threaten human health. They argue that the doses used in animal tests are much higher than what consumers would be exposed to in the real world.

Although the risk may be relatively small, the health threat that these controversial “caramel colorings” pose is significant. Even if popular soda producers are found to be acting within the bounds of the law, their behavior is clearly irresponsible. These carcinogenic chemicals are used purely for cosmetic purposes and have no other benefit for consumers.

Published on:

Emergency room visits can be traumatic for patients, especially young and senior citizen patients that contribute to more than 120 million emergency room visits each year. But even after patients leave the ER, their health may still be in jeopardy. Poor communication between emergency room physicians and primary care physicians can seriously undermine effective care.

The Seattle Times recently examined this problem, finding that patients’ physicians rarely contact the emergency room on their own, even if they work out of the same hospital. And ER doctors hardly ever contact primary care doctors to clarify information to discuss treatment plans.

Patients often suffer as a result of this disorganized communication. A study by the Center for Studying Health System Change found that when patients’ information is effectively shared, it is more likely that they will be safely admitted or discharged.

Although sharing information may be difficult because faxed records are often lengthy and hard to read, a simple phone-call between doctors can go a long way towards ensuring patient safety. The article suggests that reform efforts may provide the financial incentive doctors need to improve health information technology.

Published on:

Elder abuse is a troubling problem that has long been ignored, leaving the nation’s most vulnerable citizens defenseless against physical and psychological abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Seniors are likely to suffer in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even their own homes.

Even fame and fortune are not enough to protect our senior citizens. 90-year-old entertainment legend Mickey Rooney recently turned the public spotlight on these unacceptable problems when he urged the Senate Special Committee on Aging to crack down on elder abuse.

Rooney gave an emotional performance before the Committee, as he described the abuse he suffered at the hands of close relatives. Rooney passionately explained that his step-son and wife withheld food and mediation, verbally abused him, and took control of his life and assets. He encouraged seniors to come forward and share their stories, because silence only increases the chance that abuse will go undeterred.

Elder abuse cases threaten to overwhelm adult protective service agencies in states such as Illinois that are already overburdened and underfunded. Staffing and training continue to suffer as funding for these services decreases. It is a problem that is not only disturbing, but deadly. Studies show that elder abuse leads to a 300 percent increase in death.

Experienced nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins understand the need to protect our senior citizens and their families and continue to strongly advocate on their behalf.

Published on:

Federal drug regulators have issued a disturbing new warning for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Research shows that the popular migraine medication Topamax seriously raises the risk of birth defects such as a cleft lip or cleft palate, especially when taken during the first trimester of pregnancy.

New drug registry data shows that the risk of oral birth defects is up to 16 times higher among women who take Topamax or its generic equivalent during pregnancy. Other genital deformities and fetal or skeletal malformations are also more likely to occur.

Topamax is used to prevent severe migraine headaches and treat seizures associated with epilepsy. It is also used on an off-label basis to treat other conditions such as obesity, bi-polar disorder and alcoholism.

In response to the dramatically increased risk of Topamax-associated birth defects among moms-to-be, federal drug regulators announced that the drug will carry a stronger warning label. They also recommend that health care professionals prescribe alternative medications that have a lower risk of birth defects.

Cleft lip and cleft palate typically occur during the first trimester of pregnancy, when the lip or palate does not fuse correctly. For women who already used Topamax during pregnancy, the new warning may be too late. Additionally, because many women are unaware that they are pregnant for at least a portion of their first trimester, pregnant mothers may still be unknowingly exposed to the risk. Our medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are investigating the unusually high rate of birth defects associated with Topamax and urge women who were harmed by this dangerous medication to step forward.

Published on:

The best-selling truck in America appears to have a serious airbag defect. Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 150,000 F-150 pickup trucks because its air bags could deploy without warning, causing the potentially lifesaving device to injure the very people it is intended to protect.

The recall involves trucks that were built at Ford’s now-closed Norfolk, Virginia factory between November 2004 and June 2005. A mistake in the assembly of the trucks caused an airbag wire in the steering wheel to short circuit in at least 238 cases, resulting in nearly 80 injuries.

In most instances the airbag went off seconds after the engine was started. However, in some cases, the vehicle was on a public roadway when the unexpected deployment occurred, causing at least one passenger to reportedly jump from the vehicle. Before the deployments, a warning light appeared notifying driver’s that the vehicle needed to be serviced.

Federal safety regulators are investigating Ford’s recall plans and recommend that the automaker extend the recall to include 1.3 million of the trucks from model years 2004 through 2006. Ford has already recalled more than 1 million vehicles this year.