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Asking Patients About Guns is a Loaded Question for Docs

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, April 10, 2014

As my son got older, the list got longer: Does he always wear a helmet when riding a bike? Do we use sunscreen? Does he know the rules about talking to strangers? Is there a gun in the house? Scratch that last question—I have never been asked it by my son's pediatrician. I have also never been asked that question by my own primary care physician. And chances are the question is foreign to you, too, as a patient and as a physician.

Few physicians discuss guns

In addition to its new recommendations for reducing gun-related injuries and death, the ACP also released a survey of 573 general internists, representative of the ACP membership. The findings concluded that 85% of internists believe gun-related injuries and deaths are a public health issue, yet most report they don't initiate these types of conversations.

The survey included five specific questions about how frequently physicians discuss gun-related issues. Only 3% say they always ask whether a patient has a gun in the home; 58% report never asking. When it comes to talking about ways to reduce the risk of a gun-related injury or death, 2% say they always have this conversation with patients, 21% say they do sometimes; and 77% reported never talking about it. The remaining questions garnered similar responses.

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4 comments on "Asking Patients About Guns is a Loaded Question for Docs"


Kevin Michalowski (4/14/2014 at 11:57 AM)
If you believe it is time for Doctors to start asking patients about guns, then it is well past time for Doctors, and organizations like yours, to start getting real training and solid information about guns. Your position on an assault weapons ban is foolish. How is it that a pistol grip or bayonet lug or detachable magazine could make one gun more dangerous than another? Your support of Universal Background Check is simply a cover for a national registration scheme. If you sell me a gun without conducting a background check how is anyone to know? The only way anyone could know is if the gun's serial number was registered in a national data base AND someone physically confirmed the location of that gun on a regular schedule. Even then unless the confirmation of the location was daily that background check does nothing to stop a crime. So, a background check without registration and regular confirmation of location does nothing but interfere with the rights of honest citizens. Do we still have a 4th Amendment right against illegal searches? Does the fact that we own a gun suddenly make us a criminal, subject to such searches? Far better would be for the your group to promote universal firearms training starting in elementary school. Both my my children started firearms training and use at age 7. Thanks to responsible parenting and valuable early education, both are now fine, responsible young adults with great safety skills. You spend very little time talking about personal responsibility and much more time talking about intrusions into people's private lives. If you, as physicians, want to reduce the number of people injured or killed through the misuse of firearms, you should all become certified firearms instructors and begin teaching safety classes. At the same time, please publish the number of deaths as a result of physician malpractice. Then tell us who and what is more dangerous.

cb (4/11/2014 at 1:02 PM)
If that is a question asked by my doc I'm finding another doc.

Todd Lilje (4/10/2014 at 9:08 PM)
Having a very difficult time understanding why physicians need to address the issue of guns in the home! Historically, this country has maintained to the right to bear arms, a constitutional right. Guns in the home are one of many potential hazards in the home, but do not need to be singled out any more than other such hazards in the home, unless you are of of the mind that no one should own guns, except the federal government.