Does your doctor ask uncomfortable questions? That’s a good thing

Physicians in Florida recently won a lawsuit challenging a 2012 state law limiting their ability to ask about firearms in the home. For physicians, this law was a real wake-up call that politicians were pushing their way into our exam rooms and, in fact, limiting our rights to free speech. Of course, guns are a hot topic in the United States right now, so proponents of the bill felt it had nothing to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with the Second.

The legal fight was long and difficult, but in the end, the law was overturned. Physicians can continue to ask about firearms in the home and provide safety counseling regarding the presence of firearms as part of our routine discussions. Why doctors need to ask about guns is another essay, but the bottom line is that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this line of questioning during routine well-child exams.

You want your doctors to ask you uncomfortable questions. You definitely want your doctors to ask everyone else uncomfortable questions, because there are many safety issues that can affect not only their children, but yours as well.

Asking uncomfortable questions is how we uncover issues that patients are reluctant to discuss such as domestic violence, hunger, depression, homelessness, and even suicide. We ask new mothers about symptoms of depression, families about living arrangements, teenagers about their sexuality, drug use, and mental health. I ask if there are pets, smokers, smoke detectors, and guns in the home. In our office, we ask everyone at every well-child exam. By keeping those questions as part of each routine interaction, we help ensure that we aren’t missing something important because of unintentional bias.

If none of those sensitive topics pertain to your family, consider yourself lucky. If they do, perhaps my asking the question will put you at ease that I am in a position to help you or your child. Asking a question about the safety of firearm storage will perhaps encourage you to lock up your firearm more safely now that there are children in the home. Asking about the presence of a swimming pool, then discussing drowning, might encourage someone to enclose their swimming pool with a safety fence. Asking details about alcohol use might finally result in a parent acknowledging their drinking is out of hand and accepting help.

My questions, while highly personal or uncomfortable, are important. Please don’t be offended when I ask. In turn, I promise to be respectful of your privacy, your answers, and your willingness to hear what I have to say regarding sensitive issues.

Comments

  1. I’m moving to a new house in a new town in a new state and I’m so very nervous about asking these new people about guns in their homes. Thanks for posting this. It’s just the reminder that I need about just how very important this question is.

    Reply
    1. This question is often uncomfortable for parents as well (including me!). I sandwich it between a few other questions and informative statements to let the other parents know that I’m not judging, just asking for safety sake. I often initiate this conversation by saying, “at our house there are no pets or firearms, but we do have a pool, can you child swim?” then take it from there. I can’t promise you won’t offend anyone, but better safe in the long run. Good luck with your move!

      Reply

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