Blog | Wednesday, June 8, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Physicians muzzled when talking to patients about guns

Florida physicians want to restore their right to discuss their patients' right to bear arms.

Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and American College of Physicians joined a lawsuit to restore their ability to ask about guns in the home and counsel their patients to get rid of them.

Florida's Governor signed a bill into law (detailed here) on June 2 that prevents physicians from talking about guns unless it's relevant to the patient's care or safety, or the safety of others.

Now, physicians cannot harass (the term used in the legislation) a patient about gun ownership, ask the patient to get rid of their guns or discriminate against a patient because of gun ownership. Physicians cannot record that a patient owns a gun into a medical record. Physicians later deemed to have asked non-relevant details or to have unnecessarily harassed patients can lose their medical licenses and be fined up to $10,000 per offense, Reuters reported.

The Florida Medical Association did not join the suit, and during legislative negotiations, had cut a deal not to object to the legislation once the original fine of up to $5 million and jail time was removed, reported the Orlando Sentinel.

The Florida law is the antithesis of ACP's position on reducing injuries from firearms. One aspect of the policy states, "The College urges internists 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. If a gun is kept in the home, internists should counsel their patients about the importance of keeping guns away from children and should recommend voluntary removal of the gun from the home."

The legislation began after two residents complained that their physician wanted to dismiss them from the practice after they refused to discuss their gun ownership, reports the Miami Herald.

Now, the nature of the physician-patient relationship is at risk, a lawyer representing the physicians told Medical News Today. "This case is about the core principle of the First Amendment that the government cannot tell individual citizens what they can and cannot say. Patients have a right to trust that doctors are providing their honest and best advice about matters of health and safety. The Florida legislature cannot require that doctors first put that advice through a government-approved filter."

Gun control is a contentious issue. There's never agreement or even discussion, just sides. But doctors say their right to bear medical advice should prevail.

ACP President Virginia L. Hood, FACP, said in a press release, "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."