Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Doctors: Open Talks Can Prevent Child Injuries

Whether talking with parents about baby-proofing their homes or discussing bicycle helmet use with young patients, physicians must be able to talk candidly to their patients about child safety injury prevention, say Texas Medical Association (TMA) physicians.

Dr. Terk
“We know that injuries are a common cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in Texas,” says Jason Terk, MD, chair of the TMA Council on Science and Public Health. “Prevention of those injuries is manifestly more cost-effective than treating those injuries. Yet we still have far too high a frequency of preventable injuries that arise from motor vehicle collisions, unsafely stored firearms, unsafe all-terrain vehicle (ATV) activity, and failure to use proper head protection on bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles -- to name just a few.”

Seth Kaplan, MD, a Frisco pediatrician, understands how crucial open dialogue between physicians and their patients can be, even on sensitive subjects like gun safety.

Dr. Kaplan
After Florida passed a law restricting physicians from counseling patients about firearm safety, Dr. Kaplan lead TMA in adopting policy to “oppose any legislation that would seek to limit the scope of conversations physicians can have with their patients or their patients’ parents, when the patient is a child.” Dr. Kaplan says he counsels his patients and parents on gun safety and responsible gun ownership by encouraging the use of trigger locks and locked gun cabinets. He also tells patients about the Texas hunter education and certification program developed by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

“Physicians have a duty to counsel their patients or the parents of their patients on those things that should be done to reduce or eliminate preventable injuries,” says Dr. Terk. “Political leaders should not interfere in the execution of this part of our mission as physicians, to score political points.” He adds that laws and rules that seek to limit the communication physicians can have with their patients are “a basic infringement of the physician-patient relationship.”

Gun safety is one of several topics covered in the October issue of Texas Medicine, the association’s monthly magazine. Other topics addressing child safety include:

Safety Seats
Drs. Terk and Kaplan say Texas has improved its efforts to protect children by passing comprehensive automobile safety seat laws like the one passed in 2009 requiring children under 8 years of age or shorter than 57 inches to be secured in a child passenger safety seat. It is “one of the most important positive policy changes in recent years,” says Dr. Terk.

Proper Use of Helmets
Although the state doesn’t have a child helmet law, TMA’s Hard Hats for Little Heads program provides free bicycle helmets to children throughout Texas and advocates injury prevention in all wheeled sports and activities through helmet use. TMA has given away more than 125,000 helmets since the association started the program.

Preventing student-athlete concussions
Physicians are taking a more prominent role in their local school districts and communities when it comes to managing concussions. With TMA backing, the legislature last year passed a bill requiring school districts to create concussion oversight teams that include at least one physician. The new law seeks to prevent concussions in student athletes and allow them to fully heal before returning to play if they do suffer a concussion, so they do not risk further injury.

Dangers of ATVs
Physicians in Texas communities are taking steps to prevent injuries from ATVs as well. ATV-related injuries and fatalities are especially high in East Texas. Physicians there and across the state are pushing to integrate ATV safety education into hunter safety courses, since hunters often use ATVs.

When state lawmakers convene Jan. 2013, TMA will urge lawmakers to preserve the primacy of the patient-physician relationship and to take further steps to protect the safety of Texas children. TMA’s legislative roadmap for this decade, Healthy Vision 2020: Caring for Patients in a Time of Change outlines the association’s prescription for ensuring a healthy Texas and healthy and safe Texans.

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