By Jaimie Dalessio
Gun policy experts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and the University of California, Davis, call for physician engagement in the discussion of gun violence in an article published online today in Annals of Internal Medicine.
"While treating the wounds is an essential role for health care providers, treatment should be our last line of defense. Many gun violence victims never fully recover from their physical injuries, and the emotional scars last a lifetime," they write in the article, and doctors have an important role to play in preventing gun violence in the first place.
Many physicians who treat gun violence victims in emergency rooms around the country -- from single-victim shootings to mass killings -- share this sentiment, including Comilla Sasson, MD, an attending physician at University of Colorado Hospital who treated victims the night of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
"I'm sure anyone who has lived through something like never thinks it's going to be your ER, or your community, or your school," Dr. Sasson told Everyday Health last month. "I think these last few months specifically have really reignited a lot of that flame in terms of realizing, as doctors, we need to go out and advocate for our patients and our communities."
Sasson was referring to the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, which accelerated government response to gun violence. In January, President Obama's proposal for reducing gun violence in America also addressed the role of physicians in prevention.
What Doctors Can Do to Stop Gun Violence
President Obama's plan clarifies there is no law preventing physicians from warning authorities about threats of violence or the potential for violence. Doctors and health care providers also have a right to ask patients about firearms and safe gun storage, according to the plan. Additionally, the plan ends a freeze on gun violence research -- which for years had prevented the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other scientific agencies from using government funds to conduct research on gun violence.
In the Annals article, the authors suggest five avenues by which doctors could and should get involved:
As clinicians, identifying and treating people in crisis -- for example, making sure mental health treatment is available. Edward P. Mulvey, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, thinks access to mental health care is an important part of the solution, but not a concrete answer. "That high-risk individual doesn't get up every day and say, hey, I want to be violent today ... People get hyped up for any number of reasons. Unless we engage people and keep in touch with them, we aren't going to see those changes in risk state," he says. "There are just too many people who are at risk ... Where does mental health care come in? It comes in in engaging people to stay in touch with mental health care, and the more things we do to drive them away from the system, the less likely we'll ever know when they are totally out of control."
As managers of fear, helping people overcome the emotions they bring to the gun debate. In a survey of high school and college students conducted by researchers at American University in Washington, D.C., and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, 36 percent were "very worried" about gun violence.
As researchers, building evidence that will hopefully lead to better understanding of the problem.
As policy advocates, reviewing the current evidence and encouraging change.
As leaders within the medical community.
"People in this country are dying of guns at a very high rate," says Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who co-wrote the article. "And there's not a lot of attention to the fact that this is something that can be prevented through a dedicated effort of people in the public health community and medical community."
"Physicians Must Help Prevent Gun Violence, Experts Say" originally appeared on Everyday Health.