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Opinion 9.012 - Physicians' Political Communications with Patients and Their Families

Physicians enjoy the rights and privileges of free political speech shared by all Americans. It is laudable for physicians to run for political office; to lobby for political positions, parties or candidates; and in every other way to exercise the full scope of their political rights as citizens. These rights may be exercised individually or through involvement with organizations such as professional societies and political action committees.

In addition, physicians have a responsibility to work for the reform of, and to press for the proper administration of, laws that are related to health care. Physicians should keep themselves well-informed as to current political questions regarding needed and proposed changes to laws concerning such issues as access to health care, quality of health care services, scope of medical research, and promotion of public health.

It is natural that in fulfilling these political responsibilities, physicians will express their views to patients or their families. However, communications by telephone or other modalities with patients and their families about political matters must be conducted with the utmost sensitivity to patients’ vulnerability and desire for privacy. Conversations about political matters are not appropriate at times when patients or families are emotionally pressured by significant medical circumstances. Physicians are best able to judge both the intrusiveness of the discussion and the patient’s level of comfort. In general, when conversation with the patient or family concerning social, civic, or recreational matters is acceptable, discussion of items of political import may be appropriate.

Under no circumstances should physicians allow their differences with patients or their families about political matters to interfere with the delivery of high-quality professional care. (I, VII)

Issued June 1999 based on the report "Physicians' Political Communications with Patients and Their Families," adopted December 1998.