Stop those prying doctors!

 

Florida residents have their saviors in the Florida legislature to thank for shielding them from the insidious “prying into personal lives” that doctors have shamelessly been inflicting upon patients.

Apparently, doctors have been asking their patients questions about whether they own guns, and – prepare yourself for a shock – if the patient answers in the affirmative, some doctors have actually been counseling patients on how to store the guns safely and protect any other people in the home, particularly children, from accidental harm.

Fortunately, some attentive citizens were alerted to this disgusting practice and enlisted the NRA in helping them to get the Florida legislature to pass, and the Florida governor to sign on June 2nd, HB 155, which prohibits physicians from making written or oral inquiries regarding firearms ownership or recording such information in a patient’s chart (unless the doc believes “that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others”).

It is a great relief to see that the physician-patient relationship — too long the purview of a suspiciously-dressed clique of highly-trained, dedicated professionals and their trusting patients, too long full of “prying into personal lives” as exemplified by questions like, “How do you feel?” “Does that hurt?”  “What do you use for contraception?” and “Did anybody in your family ever have cancer?” — is at last being exposed and regulated by those people we all trust way more than we do our doctors, the elected representatives in our legislatures.  My only regret is that some of the original provisions of the bill, such as the stipulation that a violation would amount to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $5 million, did not make it into the final legislation.

Encouraged by the NRA’s success, other bodies are stepping up to protect the unsuspecting public from some of the horrifying practices that routinely take place behind the closed doors of the consulting room.  The Tobacco Growers Coalition is promoting legislation to ban doctors from making inquiries about smoking, the GFFFA (Greasy Fried Fast Food Alliance) is working to make it illegal for doctors to counsel their patients about healthy diets, the NARL is drafting laws to ensure that doctors don’t counsel pregnant patients against abortion, and the Colombian drug cartels are looking for ways to prevent doctors from advising patients against using their special brand of products.

Sound too ridiculous to be true?  OK, I made that last paragraph up.  But read this.

Lest anyone misunderstand, this post is not about gun ownership, nor do I have anything against the NRA.  This post is about unwarranted encroachment upon the sanctity of the central economy of the medical profession, the physician-patient relationship;  and about what sort of Rubicon has been crossed when the paranoid intrusion and constraint represented by this bill is placed upon the good will and judgment of a doctor — and enshrined in the law of the land.

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Erik Clary
Member

Interesting essay, Joe. Would you provide us with some history/background into why physicians are now asking questions about firearms and seeking to provide advice in an area (gun safety) that would seem to extend beyond their professional expertise? Frankly, I see questions such as “how do you feel?” and “do you use any contraceptives?” in a category (directly relevant to the patient’s present medical condition) different from that which covers “do you own any guns?” (a question laden with social and political overtones). Do you typically ask your patients if they drive a car and if so, do you also… Read more »

Joseph Gibes
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Joseph Gibes

Erik, Great questions, which I will answer after I reaffirm my central point: that legislating what a physician can ask about in the exam room is an unwarranted government intrusion into a professional relationship which detracts from that relationship, and in the process leads to poorer health care. The government has “intruded” into the relationship in a number of ways, for example, with HIPAA laws which legislate patient privacy; but as these laws aim to enhance the Hippocratic ethos rather than detract from it (“Whatever I see or hear, professionally or privately, which ought not to be divulged, I will… Read more »

Erik Clary
Member

Thanks Joe. I appreciate your thorough explanation of how the firearms issue fits into a preventative medical paradigm. It is my impression that firearms safety is a relatively new dimension of the medical consultation. Is that correct? If so, why is that? Do you believe it simply to be a reflection of a growing awareness of the importance of preventative care? Or, is there substance to the concern that the medical profession is being drafted into the present war over gun ownership? What, precisely, do you believe the Florida citizenry and their legislators are attempting to communicate in their disapproval… Read more »

Joseph Gibes
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Joseph Gibes

Erik, I do not know how long firearm safety has been part of preventive medicine. It was part of my training 20 years ago, so I don’t believe it is that recent. At some point it was added to medical care, not by an “over-reaching government” but by physicians themselves, in response to data showing that firearm death was a significant preventible cause of death in their patients. Studies done over the years show that brief counseling in the course of an office visit does not make a change in gun ownership or acquisition, but DOES make a difference in… Read more »

Erik Clary
Member

Thanks for the interaction, Joe. Your genuine concern for minimizing accidental gun deaths comes through loud and clear . . . and also your disdain for government intrusion into the physician-patient consultation. On these points, we have no disagreement. While from your perspective the issue is one of the government encroaching upon a private and sensitive relationship between doctor and patient, from the perspective of Floridian citizens, I gather, the issue concerns respect for civil rights – specifically, a right to bear arms and a right to privacy that if violated might threaten the former. The encroachment of government today… Read more »