New Report: Politics in the Exam Room, A Growing Threat

by | Oct 14, 2015 | Reproductive Rights

By Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney, Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project

Cross-posted from Women’s Law Project.

The most insidious way American politicians attempt to influence the behavior of private citizens is by quietly passing laws that legislate doctor-patient communications, going so far as to force doctors to lie to patients.

It’s a growing problem.

Across the country, politicians have been passing laws and regulations that either coerce doctors to mislead their patients or alternatively, gag them from having truthful conversations about their patient’s health.

Politicians have even used legislation to coerce doctors into performing medically-unnecessary procedures — such as is the case with bills that mandate transvaginal ultrasounds before performing an abortion.

Politics in the Exam Room, a Growing Threat, a new report released today, examines state laws that intrude into exam rooms in the areas of toxic chemical exposures, women’s reproductive health, and gun violence prevention, jeopardizing the quality of medical care available to patients. Politics in the Exam Room was published by the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Physicians Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

From the report:

This report highlights three areas where political agendas have intruded into exam rooms in harmful ways: the clinical management of toxic exposures, reproductive health, and gun safety. The impact of these laws could not be more serious: Health care providers who violate them may be subject to professional sanctions, civil liability, or even criminal penalties.

Some state-imposed restrictions take the form of “gag rules,” for example, imposing limits on providers’ ability to counsel patients about gun safety—a standard practice for pediatricians and family physicians. 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.

It’s a frightening prospect but right now, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to lead the country by stating unequivocally that politicians should stay out of the exam room by passing the Patient Trust Act.

Recently re-introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), the Patient Trust Act has the support of more than 40 professional organizations.

“Patients trust that their doctor is telling them the truth, the whole truth, and that their health is the doctor’s primary concern. We should protect that trust,” said Frankel, who co-chairs the Women’s Health Caucus. “Patients shouldn’t worry that they are on the receiving end of a political agenda when they go to the doctor.”

Doctors aren’t dummies. They don’t go to school for all those years so they can be forced to provide medically inaccurate information, or perform gratuitous procedures in order to satisfy a politician’s desire to control the medical decisions of private citizens.

Help us keep politics out of the exam room by supporting the Patient Trust Act.

Stay tuned and mark your calendars for an upcoming twitter chat about government intrusion laws and what we can do about them on Monday, October 19 at 2pm EST.