SAN DIEGO — The American Medical Association (AMA) gathered physician and medical student leaders from all corners of medicine at its Interim Meeting to shape guiding policies on emerging health care topics.

The AMA’s House of Delegates is the policy-making body at the center of American medicine, bringing together an inclusive group of physicians, medical students and residents representing every state and medical field. Delegates work in a democratic process to create a national physician consensus on emerging issues in public health, science, ethics, business and government to continually provide safer, higher quality and more efficient care for patients and communities.

The policies adopted by the House of Delegates today include:

Opposition to collecting DNA of refugees

The AMA opposed the Justice Department’s plan to collect and store DNA of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented immigrants for nonviolent immigration-related crimes without informed consent.

“Refugees should not lose the right to keep their DNA information confidential. Assembling a database of coerced DNA information from a vulnerable population is unethical,” said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A.

The AMA Code of Ethics states that individuals have the right to informed consent when their DNA is used as part of a research databank and to make decisions about how their information is used, underlining the fundamental right to privacy regarding their biological information.

AMA policy also states DNA testing of individuals for information in criminal cases should be conducted only where a warrant has been issued on the basis of a high degree of individualized suspicion. The Justice Department has proposed collecting DNA without a warrant.

“It is unclear what will be accomplished by moving forward on this misguided policy. It raises alarming privacy concerns and will not deter migrants from entering the United States,” Dr. Harris said.

Developing multicultural mobile health apps to improve health equity

The AMA adopted policy encouraging the development of mobile health applications tailored to patients from both linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. The policy is especially aimed at providing health content to underserved and low-income populations.

“There are currently not enough available mobile health apps that meet the needs of vulnerable, culturally diverse, and low-income communities, which continues to exacerbate health disparities. Timely interventions offered by mobile devices, such as personalized medication reminders, have the potential to reduce the cost of care for these patients and close existing health gaps,” said AMA Board Member William A. McDade, M.D., Ph.D.

Supporting free sunscreen in public spaces to prevent skin cancer

It is estimated that 96,480 new cases of melanoma of the skin—a form of skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation—will be detected, and an estimated 7,230 people will die of the disease by the end of 2019, according to the National Cancer Institute. To help more people prevent skin cancer, the AMA’s new policy supports free public sunscreen programs that provide broad spectrum sunscreen—SPF 15 or higher—in public spaces where the population would have a high risk of sun exposure. The policy also calls for protecting the product from excessive heat and direct sun to ensure its effectiveness and reaffirms recommended education to patients related to sun protective behavior.

“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in our country. With one in five Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime and more than 5 million Americans treated for the condition each year, it is important that we have a successful skin cancer prevention strategy in place,” said AMA Board Member Scott Ferguson, M.D. “Providing free sunscreen in public spaces will go a long way toward protecting more people from the negative health consequences that sun exposure can cause to that unprotected skin.”

Support for veterans courts

With veterans returning from war zones with health issues – including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder – the AMA is backing the use of courts for veterans accused of crimes that may be related to a neurological or psychiatric disorder.

Veterans Courts are based on the model provided by mental health treatment courts and drug courts, but they also provide specialized programs, resources, and personnel to support veterans based on their unique life experiences. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 551 veterans court programs were in operation last year.

“Studies have found that treatment offered by veterans courts results in declines in recidivism rates by 12 percent as well as decreases in symptoms of PTSD, depression, substance use, and sleep disturbances and improvements in emotional and social well-being,” said AMA Trustee Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., MBA, CDR USNR-R.

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About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.