In June, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals heard oral arguments in Wollschlaeger v. Florida, a case challenging the NRA-supported Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, which the Florida Legislature enacted in 2011 to ensure the privacy of gun owners during interactions with health care professionals. The 11th Circuit has yet to issue their opinion in the case, however, a recent study by researchers from Yale University lends credence to the concerns that led to this important privacy legislation.
The Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act provides that a licensed health care practitioner:
shall respect a patient’s right to privacy and should refrain from making a written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient, or the presence of a firearm in a private home or other domicile of the patient or a family member of the patient. Notwithstanding this provision, a health care practitioner or health care facility that in good faith believes that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others, may make such a verbal or written inquiry.
Further, the law states that licensed health care practitioners:
may not discriminate against a patient based solely upon the patient’s exercise of the constitutional right to own and possess firearms or ammunition.
shall respect a patient’s legal right to own or possess a firearm and should refrain from unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership during an examination.
The statute also makes clear that a patient may refuse to answer questions from a health care practitioner regarding firearm ownership.
NRA worked with the Florida Legislature to enact the Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act after learning of specific incidents in which patients were concerned about their physicians’ inquiries about firearm ownership. Unfortunately, new research suggests that instances where physicians bring their political biases into the examination room may be more common than previously thought.
In an article published in the October 18 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled, “Democratic and Republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues,” Yale researchers Eitan D. Hersh and Matthew N. Goldenberg found that a physician’s political affiliation can affect the treatment they provide.
To conduct their study, the researchers cross-referenced primary care physician records with voter registration data to develop a sample of Democratic and Republican physicians, which they then surveyed. Those surveyed where provided vignettes on nine politicized topics such as alcohol, marijuana, obesity, and firearms, and asked to rank (on a scale of 1-10) how serious they considered the scenario, and how likely is was that they would confront the patient on the topic. Physicians were also surveyed on the treatment options they would pursue with the patient on a given issue. Of course, it is incorrect to categorize firearms ownership as a “health issue” alongside legitimate health care concerns such as obesity and drug use, however, Hersh and Goldenberg’s findings are still instructive.
The firearms vignette read:
A healthy-appearing, 38-y-old male [28-y-old female] patient comes to your office for a physical. This is his [her] first appointment with you. He [She] does not have any known prior chronic medical issues. During the patient interview, the patient who is a parent with two small children at home, acknowledges having several firearms at home.
Treatment options for the firearms scenario were, “Ask about safe storage,” “Discuss risks,” and “Urge patient not to store firearms.”
The researchers note that their “findings suggest that Republican and Democratic physicians differently assess the seriousness of patient health issues that are politically salient,” and that, “Republican physicians also differ from Democratic physicians in the treatments offered to patients who present with those health issues.”
Of the politicized topics studied, on seriousness, firearms ranked in “the three vignettes that exhibited the strongest partisan differences,” with the researchers noting, “Democratic physicians rated the firearms vignette as more concerning.” In regards to treatment options, the researchers also determined that “Democratic physicians may be more likely to urge patients not to store firearms at home, but Republican physicians are significantly more likely to ask about the safe storage of the weapons.”
In closing, the researchers call on physicians to “consider how their own political views may impact their professional judgments.”
Political prejudices have no place in the examination room, which is why the Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act is so vital. Patients and physicians should embrace the Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act and its important goal of fostering trust and unbiased medical treatment.