Friday, October 21, 2011

Doctors Can Be Both Respectful and Safety-Conscious

While I appreciate e-friend Memmay Moore's balanced reporting of this story, in the end I disagree with her conclusions...

Why should a doctor "routinely" ask questions that aren't directly related to a patient's medical complaint? More to the point, why should the doctor store any information about the patient on a computer that links to the Internet...I think this should be a crime. (Yes, it can be helpful for doctors to share data about disease conditions, but if they're doing this they should be absolutely forbidden to link that data to anybody's real identity.)

The best way for doctors to share information is to make the information available, in a range of formats ranging from cartoon sheets to reports from the professional journals, in their waiting-room literature. Doctors know this information will be viewed, read, and taken home.

I'm not sure that it's really appropriate for health care professionals to ask any questions that don't directly follow up on something a patient has said. I know that many competent professionals do make ordinary social conversation with patients. Home health aides, who may actually live in patients' homes, tend to become part of a patient's family...but home health aides also refuse to share any personal information about patients or their families. In an office where information is being stored on a computer, patients should certainly withhold any information other than the facts about a disease condition, including their real names.

I don't think there is an inoffensive way for a pediatrician to ask any leading questions about an adult's use of firearms. Much as some of us may want to keep others "safe," those who are interested in wildlife and the environment know that one of every creature's primary "safety needs" is to be safe from unnatural interference. It's more important that children grow up in a society that respects privacy than that they be "protected" from any possibility that they might one day want to commit suicide...for starters, interference creates the kind of stress that makes susceptible people more interested in escape by any means necessary including suicide.

A pediatrician can of course mention firearms on a list of things that can be dangerous to toddlers, along with soap and other cleaning products, adult-size furniture, stoves, heaters, stairs, windows, shelves, and practically everything else in a normal home. Toddlers really do need to be kept "safe" by spending their days within sight of a responsible adult, preferably the one with whom they bonded as breast-fed babies.

If burdened by additional "safety" concerns for other people, we can always publish safety-related articles in magazines...many magazines actually pay for them. And that's the absolute limit to which we need to go, except when we are personally responsible for the care of a small child or sick patient.

In most cases the urge to meddle, ask questions, and give advice to the other adults we know will only make us less popular...but in crowded urban environments where people may already be feeling stressed by too much contact with too many acquaintances, that one little push to "protect" someone just might push someone over the edge, toward suicide or mass murder.