Dr. Jennings: Protecting the Patient-Physician Relationship: Why Ob-Gyns Need to Talk With Patients About Gun Safety

ACOG President Dr. John JenningsSeptember 25, 2014Articles

In order to deliver the best health care, ob-gyns must develop strong relationships with our patients. We need to discuss sensitive issues in the exam room, including sexual health, family planning, mental health, and domestic violence concerns. Keeping the line of communication unhindered allows physicians to provide the needed information to keep patients healthy.

That’s why a Florida law called the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, or the “physician gag law,” is so troubling. The law restricts physicians from asking questions about gun ownership in order to discuss firearm safety during medical visits. The law is particularly concerning in consideration of the volume of family violence associated with firearms. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. Firearms were used to kill more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1990 and 2005. Read ACOG’s Committee Opinion “Intimate Partner Violence.”

Even when there is no indication of domestic violence, discussing gun safety is effective in reducing the risk of injury at home. Studies have found that physician counseling about firearm safety increases the likelihood a patient will adapt safe-gun storage practices.

In November 2012, ACOG joined an amicus brief in the case of Wollschlaeger v. the State of Florida, asking the court to overturn the Florida bill because it interfered with physicians’ freedom of speech. Unfortunately, an appellate court recently voted to uphold the law. In response, the Coalition to Protect the Patient-Provider Relationship, made up of 20 organizations, including ACOG, issued a statement regarding interference in the patient-physician relationship. ACOG also released a statement of policy on gun violence earlier this year.

Legislative interference, including laws such as this, compromises the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship. Open and honest communication between physicians and patients is critical to provide the best treatment options. We must protect our relationships with our patients to keep them healthy—and safe.

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