Physicians split on their approach to asking patients about guns in the home

Recent headlines—such as the Stanford medical professor who dropped his Pentagon bid after making controversial gun comments—highlight the role that physicians play in the national conversation about firearms ownership.  

In conjunction with coverage of this newsworthy topic on our HCP platform Univadis, we asked our members to share their attitudes and behaviors when it comes to discussing guns in the home with their patients. Of the over 700 U.S. HCPs who responded, here’s what we found:

  • There was no clear majority opinion, and nearly an equal split between physicians saying that asking a patient about guns in the home is outside the scope of a doctor’s care and so would not ask (35.3%) and those who say they would only ask a patient about guns in the home if the patient exhibited other severe, obvious risk factors (35.4%)
  • 23.7% say they would ask patients about the presence of guns in their homes often and without any hesitation or apprehension
  • 5.6% of respondents say they are hesitant to ask any patient about this, saying it’s too sensitive an issue

Sample comments from respondents include:

“If we're supposed to ask about general safety of patients (wearing a seatbelt, child safety devices in the home, fall risk precautions for elderly in the home), why should firearms be any different? Further, if you think asking about firearms is too intrusive, how are we supposed to ask about a patient's sexual preference, drug use, or possible high risk sexual activities? It's about general safety and public health.”
 “I will never talk with patients about gun safety unless I think they are suicidal/homicidal. Nor will I talk with them about ladder safety, not using cell phones or texting while driving.  Physicians have enough vital information to communicate to patients and so little time to do so.” 
“I once came close to shooting my brother in childhood (trigger failed), and being shot by a patient's family in protest to a hospital rule at a clinic (a bullet was rolled at my foot on the floor as he left). But I'm hesitant to make gun subject routine in my talk. Too large, deep and sensitive.”
“This is a place where doctors can contribute substantially to a public health crisis. There needs to be robust action on the behalf of medicine and no question that gun safety and firearms are a public health issue.”

These results reflect the power of the physician to make their own decisions about patient care, based on their experiences and their patient populations.   

We respect this role physicians play, and look forward to continuing to provide HCPs around the globe with high-value content – whether clinical or related to the business of being a doctor – in a convenient format that also provides them the opportunity to discuss important topics like this respectfully and professionally among their peers. 

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