4

I am currently watching Trump's doctors press conference and there seem to be an inconsistency between what the doctors are saying and the details about the treatment

This article mentions that the President received an experimental antibody treatment. I imagine that prescribing experimental treatments requires a serious enough condition to justify the risks.

I am wondering what happens if later events prove that the President's doctors have incorrectly reported his health condition.

Question: Are medical professionals reporting on US president's health status accountable for the information they provide?

5
  • 6
    What specifically do you mean by "accountable"? Oct 3 '20 at 17:02
  • 2
    Reports are that he tested positive late Thursday but one of the doctors holding a press conference indicated that he was 72 hours into the diagnosis which would indicate Wednesday morning for the positive test. If that is true that would raise a lot of questions about the official information and how accurate it is.
    – Joe W
    Oct 3 '20 at 18:19
  • 2
    @AlphaDraconis A politician can provide inaccurate information or even lie because they are making political statements. However, medical professionals are typically bound to more restrictive rules. I would expect them to either correctly answer the questions or mention that they are not allowed to answer (some details are clearly confidential).
    – Alexei
    Oct 3 '20 at 18:39
  • 2
    It's not unreasonable for the president to seek a more aggressive treatment schedule than the average person even if they have mild symptoms, due their importance to the US. Whether that is in fact what is happening here remains to be seen. Oct 3 '20 at 20:01
  • I second Arcanist's point. That Trump is receiving experimental treatments, or treatments normally reserved for more progressed cases, is more indicative of his position and stature than his actual need. While he might have such need, it's not necessary for him to get it. Vast resources are available to protect the President, and great lengths will be gone to to ensure the health and survival of the President whenever needed. There's no better "skip to the front of the line card" with regards to treatment options (and many other things) than "I'm the POTUS". Oct 3 '20 at 21:41
6

A medical professional in the US is accountable first and foremost to the patient. Medical records are private information, generally inaccessible to anyone except the doctor, patient, and anyone with the legal right to make medical decisions for the patient. Doctors are only legally accountable if they give false or misleading information to a patient that prevents proper assessment of medical options (general malpractice) or if they reveal sensitive information against the patient's wishes (violation of medical privacy statutes), but such cases are usually handled as civil suits.

The fact that the patient in this case is the President of the United States does not change the fact that the physician's primary obligation is to the patient. If Trump does not want the nature, extent, or prognosis of his condition revealed, his doctor is obliged not to reveal it, no matter how important that information may seem to the American press and people. While we might criticize other members of the Trump administration and staff for prevaricating to advance and defend Trump's political agendas, we cannot criticize a doctor for respecting the wishes and privacy of his patient. It is noteworthy that Conely is a military doctor, subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that the UCMJ prohibits lying. But it is unclear whether a courts martial would be convened merely because a doctor stretched the truth about a patient's condition.

Trump is ill, as we all are at various points in our lives. That is a private struggle. If it becomes severe enough that Trump cannot fulfill his public duties, Pence will take over for the interim; there will be no vacuum of power, and that is all we need to know.

6
  • 1
    A potential difference: this doctor serves the United States, more specifically the Office of the President, with the role of personal physician to the President. He was appointed to the position, and confirmed by Congress like any other Officer. Much like there are differences between his personal attorneys and White House ones. One would presume they get to enjoy and be restrained by the normal doctor/patient restrictions and protections, but it would seem plausible that this need not be the case without specific reference to the statutes governing his position. Oct 3 '20 at 20:57
  • By "this doctor" I meant Dr. Conley, who as far as I know is the only doctor attending to Trump who is saying anything. Oct 3 '20 at 21:36
  • 4
    A political campaigner who made the opponent's health an issue (including smear tactics) should not be surprised to find his health a campaign issue. But that is between the American public and the President, not between the public and the medical staff.
    – o.m.
    Oct 4 '20 at 3:22
  • 2
    Doctors are only legally accountable if they give false or misleading information In many countries they are also legally accountable if they disclose without permission information about a patient, I believe it is the same in the USA. And of course, if at a late date it is established that the information they provided was false, it could have professional consequences due to the loss of credibility.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 4 '20 at 15:25
  • 2
    I resonate with this answer, more specifically with "is accountable first and foremost to the patient". However, from a layman's perspective, there is a big difference between answering with "I am not allowed to provide the details" and answering something that will prove to be false. Patient confidentiality is clearly the most important dimension here, but I expect this to not lead to medical professionals deforming reality.
    – Alexei
    Oct 4 '20 at 16:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .