Physicians received clarity last week about their right to ask patients about gun ownership. President Obama signed an executive order promising further guidance explaining that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or regulate communication about firearms between clinicians and patients, Medscape Today reported.
"Doctors and other healthcare providers ... need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients' homes and safe storage of those firearms," the administration said in a statement, "especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family members at home."
In maintaining its stance that physicians play a critical role in reducing gun violence, the American Academy of Family Physicians in a January 17 letter commended the President's "leadership in advancing a national conversation on gun violence."
"As physicians, we strongly support your executive order clarifying that no federal law shall be construed to restrict the patient-physician relationship and prevent physicians from discussing gun ownership and gun safety with their patients," the letter states. "We must now work to ensure that state laws preventing such communications are repealed."
Although several medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have spoken out against bans on gun questions from doctors, not all physicians agree that it should be their role to engage in such discussions.
Paul Hsieh, cofounder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, for example, wrote in a recent post in Forbes that routinely asking patients about gun ownership could "compromise the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship," adding that physicians already have "professional and legal responsibility to notify the authorities if they believe patients pose an imminent threat to others or themselves."
And from a pragmatic viewpoint, Physicians Practice blogger Melissa Young, an assistant clinical professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, wrote in a recent post that "if we are going to put the onus on physicians [to assess a person's ability to be a safe gun owner], you're going to have to find a CPT code for 'evaluation for safe gun usage' and an ICD-9 code for 'gun owner.'"