Health Care Is Up in Arms About Firearms

Physicians around the nation are up in arms about some proposed legislation that may limit their communications with patients. One such measure is from Florida, where the State Legislature recently passed the “Don’t Ask” bill. It waits for the likely signature of Governor Rick Scott. Florida House Bill 155 will prohibit in part a physician or other health care professionals from asking patients or members of their families whether they own a firearm or have one in their home.

Supporters of the bill, including the National Rifle Association, contend the legislation is important to stop doctors from invading their privacy, especially when they are concerned the information may be used against them by insurance companies. According to Marion Hammer, executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida: “Simply, it’s none of their business.”

Representatives from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American College of Physicians (ACP), and American Osteopathic Association (AOA) all agree on the importance of the physician-patient relationship, and the importance of maintaining these open channels with strict confidentiality exists at its very core.

Together, these three groups oppose any legislation — including laws relating to the possession of firearms and an office visit discussion about guns in the home –  that places limitations on the free exchange of information within the patient-physician relationship. Any restriction, according to the groups, may cause harm to the patient’s and family’s health.

The 300,000 plus physicians within these organizations firmly believe that they must have open and honest communication with patients about all aspects of health and safety. One critical aspect of this process is safety and injury prevention. By providing meaningful patient education, physicians can help improve patient well being.  The AAFP, ACP and AOA have long standing policies in support of this notion.

The AAFP is one of the largest national medical organizations, representing more than 100,300 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students nationwide. Founded in 1947, the group’s mission is to preserve and promote the science and art of Family Medicine, and at the same time advance high-quality, cost-effective health care for everyone.

The ACP is a national organization of internists who specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses in adults. The largest medical-specialty organization and second-largest physician group in the United States, the group’s 130,000 members include internists, internal medicine subspecialists, as well as medical students, residents, and fellows.

The AOA serves as the professional family for all osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students. In addition to being the primary certifying body for DOs, the AOA is also the accrediting agency for all osteopathic medical schools, and it has federal authority to accredit hospitals through its Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program.

AAFP President Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, explained: “The AAFP believes that patient confidentiality must be protected. Any proposal that seeks to intrude on these rights and place restrictions on what can be discussed jeopardizes a patient’s health and represents unwise governmental intrusion.”

Only in an environment of confidence and trust can a patient freely share the necessary information for a physician to understand, diagnose, and treat patients properly.  ”The American Osteopathic Association opposes any and all efforts to censor communication that occurs between patients and their physicians,” said AOA President Karen J. Nichols, DO. “Any legislation that impedes on this relationship jeopardizes the health and safety not only of our patients, but also their families.”

Representatives from the physician groups content that the proposed legislation in Florida and other states attempts to preclude physicians from asking patients about firearm ownership, thereby preventing any discussion about safe storage and handling. Historically such education has been shown to decrease the likelihood of unintentional injury or death.

“On this particular issue, ACP’s policy encourages physicians to inform patients about the dangers of keeping firearms, particularly handguns, in the home and to advise them on ways to reduce the risk of injury,’” said ACP President Virginia L. Hood, MBBS, MPH, FACP. “However, this issue is much bigger than guns, it is about whether the government or any other body should be allowed to tell physicians what they can and can’t discuss with their patients.”