AAFP, Others Assail Measures That Interfere With Physician-Patient Relationship

Florida Legislation 'Represents Unwise Governmental Intrusion,' Groups Say

May 27, 2011 05:25 pm News Staff

The AAFP opposes legislation that places limits on information exchanged within the patient-physician relationship, and now the Academy, along with several other primary care organizations, has issued a statement saying that such legislation poses a risk to the health of patients and their families.

[Stock photo of doctor talking with patient]

"The AAFP believes that patient confidentiality must be protected," said AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas, in the statement. "Any proposal that seeks to intrude on these rights and place restrictions on what can be discussed (in the physician-patient relationship) jeopardizes a patient's health and represents unwise governmental intrusion."

The statement was issued jointly by the AAFP; the American College of Physicians, or ACP; and the American Osteopathic Association, or AOA, which together represent more than 300,000 primary care physicians nationwide. Although the statement comes as Florida and other states consider legislation that would severely restrict the ability of physicians to ask patients about gun ownership, a much larger issue is at stake, according to the three organizations. That issue is whether a state government can dictate what a physician can say to or ask his or her patients. The three groups are speaking out against any laws that could infringe on the patient-physician relationship.

"A confidential relationship between patient and physician is essential for the free flow of information necessary for sound medical care," says the statement. "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."

The Florida measure, H.B. 155(www.myfloridahouse.gov), which is expected to become law, would prohibit physicians from intentionally entering firearms ownership information into a patient's medical record. It also would prohibit physicians from asking their patients about firearms ownership unless the physician "in good faith believes that this information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety or the safety of others."

The bill also prohibits physicians from refusing to accept patients based on whether they own firearms. And it gives patients a way to complain to the state medical board about physicians who ask them about gun ownership. Physicians who violate the provisions in the measure can be sanctioned and disciplined by the state medical board.

"Proposed legislation in Florida and a number of other states could limit physicians from asking their patients about firearm ownership and prevent the discussion of their safe storage and handling," says the organizations' statement. "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."

In the statement, the three organizations point out that 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 organizations say. "The AAFP, ACP and AOA have long-standing policies on the need to provide patient education, particularly when guns are present in the home."