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?
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.Follow @BobDohertyACP
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