CHICAGO – At the Special Meeting of its House of Delegates, the American Medical Association (AMA) said it will urge the federal government to revise the definition of harm to include mental and emotional distress, making the definition more flexible for physicians who have been constrained by rules that limit the definition to physical events. 

Under current regulations, physicians must release health information even when—in their professional judgment—they believe that doing so would emotionally or psychologically harm their patient. For example, physicians treating adolescents must share sensitive information to parents or patients’ proxies in sensitive areas such as reproductive health, mental health or substance use. While sharing that information might not result in physical harm to the adolescent, it could result in severe mental anguish or emotional distress as the patients deals with the reaction from their family member.

Clinicians are stewards of information and should be granted discretion when they are concerned about the consequences of releasing sensitive information.

“The current regulation that permits a physician to withhold the release of information in cases of anticipated physical harm is a blinkered view of the patient-physician relationship. It denies physicians their ability to exercise their expertise and training to evaluate the needs of a patient,” said AMA Board Chair-elect Bobby Mukkamala, MD.

The AMA will urge the HHS Office for Civil Rights to revise the definition to include mental and emotional distress. That would give physicians flexibility under the Preventing Harm Exception—based on their professional judgment—to withhold sensitive information they believe could cause physical, mental or emotional harm to the patient.

The AMA also will ask the Office for Civil Rights to assemble a commission of medical professionals to help the office review the definition of harm and provide scientific evidence demonstrating that mental and emotional health is intertwined with physical health.

Media Contact:

Jack Deutsch

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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.