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

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.

This entry was posted in Women's Health and tagged , , by John C. Jennings, MD. Bookmark the permalink.

About John C. Jennings, MD

John C. Jennings, MD is the president of ACOG through April 2015. He is professor of ob-gyn at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at the Permian Basin. Dr. Jennings was in private practice in San Angelo, TX, for 12 years before entering academic medicine. He has served as head of gynecology and program director of ob-gyn at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC; professor and program director of ob-gyn at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston; chair and program director of ob-gyn at TTUHSC at Amarillo; and regional dean of the school of medicine at TTUHSC at the Permian Basin.

3 thoughts on “Protecting the Patient-Physician Relationship: Why Ob-Gyns Need to Talk With Patients About Gun Safety

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  2. May I just say what a comfort to uncover someone
    who actually knows what they are discussing over the internet.
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  3. I left the AMA 20 years ago due to their stance on firearms legislation. The ACOG has no need to get involved in ill conceived attempts to restrict our constitutional rights, or comment on matters outside its expertise.

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