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Ruling 'Destructive' to Patient-Physician
July 28, 2014
(Washington) The American College of Physicians (ACP) today said
that it strongly disagrees with last week's Florida court decision
upholding a state law that bars doctors from asking patients about
gun ownership. The ruling in the case, which included the Florida
ACP chapter as a plaintiff, overturned a decision by a lower court
that had struck it down two years ago.
The ruling said that there is no First Amendment protection for
doctors providing their best medical advice to their patients. "At
the very least, this ruling is destructive to the patient-physician
relationship," said ACP President David A. Fleming, MD, MA, FACP.
"Many doctors ask about gun ownership as a normal part of screening
patients, including it on a long list of health questions about
drug and alcohol use, smoking, exercise and eating habits."
A confidential relationship between patient and physician is
essential for the free flow of information necessary for sound
medical care. Only in a setting of trust can a patient share the
private feelings and personal history that enable the physician to
comprehend fully, to diagnose logically and to treat properly. If
they are to provide proper care, physicians should be able to
gather any information that can have an impact on the health of
their patients and families.
Safety and injury prevention are crucial components of
preventive medical care. Primary care physicians can help improve
the health of the American public by providing accurate and
meaningful patient education.
The panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week
described the law as a "legitimate regulation" of professional
conduct that simply codified good medical care.
This legislation could limit physicians from asking their
patients about firearm ownership, and prevent the discussion of
their safe storage and handling. Firearms education of both adults
and children has been shown to decrease the likelihood of
unintentional injury or death. The presence of firearms in the
home, when improperly stored, can present a health danger to
patients and others.
Last year, ACP underscored a list of eight recommendations on
firearms-related violence and included: Preserving the rights of
doctors to counsel their patients on preventing deaths and injuries
from firearms. In this regard, state governments must also do their
part, by not imposing restrictions on engaging in such discussions
with their patients, as some state legislatures have attempted to
Opponents of last week's decision note that there is no change
from current treatment of the law. There can continue to be
questioning by physicians until there is review by the entire 11th
"ACP believes this issue is much bigger than guns," Dr. Fleming
concluded. "We believe it addresses whether the government or any
other body should be allowed to tell physicians what they can and
can't discuss with their patients, consistent with evidence-based
standards of care."
The American College of Physicians is the
largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest
physician group in the United States. ACP members include 141,000
internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists,
and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists
who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the
diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the
spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.
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