A surprising coalition has come together to highlight how recent changes in state law have adversely impacted the practice of medicine. The National Partnership for Women & Families, National Physicians Alliance (NPA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have released a new report showing the significant uptick in the number of states requiring doctors to spread false medical information to patients.
In the report, each group highlights changes to state law that reflect their area of expertise.
One Pennsylvania law, for example, forces health care providers to choose between risking a lawsuit by violating a required confidentiality agreement drafted by fracking companies to protect their trade secrets, or violating their duties to patients in ways that may expose them to medical malpractice claims. Other laws included in the report require physicians to claim false medical linkages to patients.
“We’ve seen laws that require physicians to say there is a link between getting an abortion and getting breast cancer and there just isn’t,” explains Sarah Lipton-Lubet, director of reproductive health programs at National Partnership for Women & Families, and a contributor to the report in an interview with CivSource. “What we started to see when we began putting this report together is not only laws that require false information in reproductive health, but equally troubling laws in other areas of health like gun safety and fracking. So we reached out to leaders in each of these fields and asked them to contribute.”
One Florida law cited in the report, enacted in 2011, subjects health care providers, including pediatricians, to disciplinary action for inquiring about whether a patient owns a gun and if it is secured out of reach of children. In another example, health care providers treating patients for toxic chemical exposure resulting from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), an oil and gas extraction technique, face gag clauses that can undermine their ability to share information about chemicals to which their patients have been exposed.
According to data in the report, the impact of these types of policies can be far reaching. More than 15 million people live within one mile of a fracking well and could be exposed to a range of chemical agents and may not be allowed to know.
“What we are saying with this report is that the doctor-patient relationship has to be built on a standard of trust, but that’s only going to happen if there can be frank and truthful discussions about health and medical procedures,” Lipton-Lubet says.
The report shows that there are various legal challenges happening throughout the country in order to change these laws, but there are just as many legal efforts happening to expand them. The report includes a handful of policy recommendations to ensure that facts stay in the exam room and politicians stay out, but the battle looks like an uphill one.
“We can’t have informed consent in the patient relationship if we are leaving out information,” Lipton-Lubet adds.