The ACP Advocate Blog

by Bob Doherty

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Florida bans doctors from asking patients about alcohol consumption

Last week, Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law the “docs and cocktails” law, prohibiting physicians from asking patients about their consumption of alcoholic beverages;*

“An act relating to the privacy of consumers of alcoholic beverages; providing that a licensed medical care practitioner or health care facility may not record information regarding ownership or consumption of alcoholic beverages in a patient's medical record;

providing an exception for relevance of the information to the patient's medical care or safety or the safety of others;

providing that unless the information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety or the safety of others, inquiries regarding alcoholic beverage consumption or possession should not be made by licensed health care practitioners or health care facilities;

providing an exception for emergency medical technicians and paramedics;

providing that a patient may decline to provide information regarding consumption of alcoholic beverages;

clarifying that a physician's authority to choose his or her patients is not altered by the act;

prohibiting discrimination by licensed health care practitioners or facilities based solely upon a patient's consumption of alcoholic beverages;

prohibiting harassment of a patient regarding consumption of alcoholic beverages by a licensed health care practitioner or facility during an examination;

prohibiting denial of insurance coverage, increased premiums, or any other form of discrimination by insurance companies issuing policies on the basis of an insured’s or applicant's ownership, possession, or consumption of alcoholic beverages . . . violation of the provisions of [this act] are grounds for disciplinary action.”

*Not really: of course there is no “docs and cocktails” law in Florida. No one in their right mind would prohibit doctors from asking their patients about consumption of alcoholic beverages, right? Not even the well-financed distillery trade association.

But the legislative language above is verbatim from Florida’s infamous “Docs and Glocks” law, except I replaced all references to firearms ownership and possession with consumption of alcoholic beverages, to make the point that Florida’s ban on doctors asking patients about gun ownership is no less absurd.

Most people would recoil at the idea that the government would tell doctors that they can’t ask their patients about consuming alcoholic or entering information about their drinking habits in the medical record, yet when it comes to firearms, the Florida legislature overwhelming approved such a ban. If such a ban stands up in court, is it really out-of-the-question that manufacturers and sellers of whiskey, or red meat, or even marijuana, might want to do the same?

Yes, I know that the possession of firearms is a constitutional right, but having firearms in the home is also a known contributor to accidental shootings. Physicians have every right and responsibility to ask about firearm ownership and to counsel their patients about preventing accidental shootings, just like they have every right to ask their patients about how many drinks they have. Yet unless the courts intervene, physicians in Florida could be disciplined if they ask their patients about guns. And as Florida goes, you can be sure that much of the rest of the country will follow.

ACP’s Florida chapter is among four physician groups that have joined in a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s law as an unacceptable and overly vague infringement on first amendment rights. Hooray for them! But where is the outcry from physicians and patient advocates around the country about government telling doctors what they can say to their patients? Why are so many silent on this absurd and unacceptable government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship? Why are not more of them up-in-arms (pun intended) about this blatant violation of the first amendment right to free speech?

Today’s question: Why do you think more physicians are not speaking out against Florida’s efforts to ban free speech?

2 Comments :

Blogger Harrison said...

We don't even speak out as individuals or as a unified voice when members of our profession are murdered by individuals acting out of hate. When Dr. Slepian and Dr. Tiller were targeted and murdered because they performed legal medical procedures there were few of us who stood up for them.
And in fact the act of hate has succeeded.
Instead of us stepping up and trying to make abortion services mainstream and therefore harder to target we have allowed them to become scarcer.

Of course we could also react by agreeing with the hate group that abortion services have no place in medicine and should be illegal.

I guess that would be okay too.
It would be a reaction.

Instead, we just watch and allow the hate groups to persecute those brave enough to offer a legal service.

That should make us sad.

And we shouldn't then be surprised to see that another political group motivated by hate comes after our practices and our records.

And it will generate lawsuits and maybe even gun violence in Florida.

I guess we'll just continue to watch because they are not coming after us, ... until they are.

Harrison

June 8, 2011 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger ryanjo said...

There was actually a lot of pushback against this NRA-sponsored/funded measure here in Florida. Many doctors and other healthcare professionals spoke out locally; there were letters in the opinion pages of the local papers and some TV interviews.

The Florida Medical Association sent off several email blasts to the membership as the bill passed through committees. As a result, FMA was successful in inserting this language in the final version: "Notwithstanding this provision, a health care provider or health care facility that in good faith believes that this information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety, or safety of others, may make such a verbal or written inquiry."

Pretty much cuts the guts out of this stupid law. But I guess the legislature gets to keep its NRA money. Typical of the way our government works when deciding healthcare matters. Which makes me very fearful of what is being cooked up in Washington.

June 8, 2011 at 9:36 PM  

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About the Author

Bob Doherty is Senior Vice President, American College of Physicians Government Affairs and Public Policy; Author of the ACP Advocate Blog

Email Bob Doherty: TheACPAdvocateblog@acponline.org.

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