At issue is a recent policy paper about gun ownership issued by DAHI titled "Talking to Patients About Guns in the Home."
According to the DAHI policy paper, "most doctors do not routinely raise the issue of handguns in the home. Some suggest that many physicians simply do not know enough about firearms and firearm safety to feel comfortable raising the issue. Some also suggest that raising the issue might offend those who own guns. However, presenting basic facts and helping patients make informed decisions about risks to their health is part of a physician's job."
Dr. Robert Seltzer, executive director of DAHI, denied that the group was advocating violating doctor-patient confidentiality on gun ownership.
"The purpose is not to lecture the patients about whether they have or should keep handguns in the home. It's to indicate to them that if they decide to keep such weapons in the home, there are ways in which they can reduce the risk associated with keeping them in the home," Seltzer said in a telephone interview from the group's New York office.
"It's only become an issue only after we released the policy paper. They do not report gun ownership to the federal government, the state government, local governments, police, insurance companies or anyone else. They treat it just the way they do when you go in for a physical and the doctors asks: 'Do you smoke? Do you drink?' But it's not an effort to spy on patients."
In defending the DAHI position, Seltzer said his group's actions were not unique. "The American Medical Association published a booklet called 'Physician's Guide to Firearms,' which also includes a notion that you ought to ask patients about whether they keep weapons in the home, so that you can provide them with information about how to reduce the risks," Seltzer said.
"The American Pediatric Association has also done it, and so have a number of other organizations."
DAHI represents "13 medical and clinical societies who have 600,000 members," according to Seltzer. Among the members of the group are American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.
"They are doing this because doctors are incensed about this. This is not a science issue. This is not a medical issue. This is playing politics. They know it. They did not bother to poll their members," Faria said in a telephone interview from his office in Macon, Ga.
The political overtones of DAHI appear throughout the group's position paper, which was initially obtained by the New York Observer.
In that report, DAHI recommends that health professionals engage in what it calls "upstream intervention" – using regular checkups as an opportunity to ask patients about firearm ownership and storage in their homes.
"To promote public safety, health professionals and health systems should ask about firearm ownership when taking a medical history or engaging in preventive counseling," the report stated.
The recommendation was based on an analysis of recent gun suicides, homicides and accidental deaths across the country, according to the Observer dispatch.
"The group is also calling for more conventional measures, such as mandatory background checks of purchasers at gun shows, limits on the number of guns that can be purchased by individuals and a waiting period for all gun buyers. This is the first time that such a large group of doctors has taken a position on gun control," the Observer reported.
Seltzer denied the newspaper account and the AAPS concerns as well. "The National Rifle Association will probably say that we're threatening gun rights, no matter what," said Seltzer. "I'm sure they'll say this is disgusting and wrong and bad, and that we're trying to take away people's guns, which we're not."
But Faria argues that the policy "constitutes a breach in medical ethics, a boundary violation in reference to abuse of the patient-doctor relationship, and an egregious invasion of privacy." He says the practice "breaches the patient's trust ... to advance a political agenda."
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