Heated debate continues on asking patients about gun ownership

By Aine Cryts

Should physicians ask patients about gun ownership--or not?

A video exchange on Medscape led by Art Caplan, Ph.D., founding director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, continued the debate. Caplan advocates for physicians asking patients about gun ownership but they need to be educated on the topic, he said in the video. While some physicians in the video agreed with Caplan, others disagreed.

Physicians should discuss guns with patients "because it's an important health issue," argued Bart A. Kummer, M.D., a gastroenterologist and clinical professor at NYU's Langone Medical Center, in the video. On the other end of the spectrum, Constance G. Uribe, M.D., clinical professor in the department of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Yuma, held that physicians shouldn't be counseling patients about guns. Instead, the physicians' role is to treat the sick and injured, she said.

The video attracted more than 700 comments that included perspectives on both sides of the issue, reports Medscape. One physician, for example, was troubled about entering gun ownership information in the electronic health record (EHR)--largely because that information would be accessible to anyone who wanted to search patients' records in the future.

Another commenter weighed in about physicians' need to use good judgement on the topic. "I understand that certain states have mandated that physicians NOT ask about guns, which is ridiculous," wrote the physician. "If I am treating a suicidal patient, I'm going to ask about guns, and I'll deal with any legal consequences later. On the other hand, to mandate that we counsel all patients on guns intrudes on our good judgment about how our time is best spent in a clinical encounter."

This is a timely topic because a 2011 Florida law preventing physicians from asking about gun ownership sits before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and may indeed be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as previously reported by FiercePracticeManagement.

To learn more:
- view the video
- read the article