Editor’s Note: Ford Vox is a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine and a journalist. He is a medical analyst for NPR station WABE-FM 90.1 in Atlanta. He writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @FordVox. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Dr. Harold Bornstein is back, baby. In multiple interviews, the President’s original superlative-laden physician is breaking news, airing grievances and dancing on the grave of Donald Trump’s former physician at the White House, Dr. Ronny Jackson. The parade of medical misfits in and around this administration is a sight to behold but makes sense amid an ethos that places self-regard over profession and community.
First, the news: Bornstein, history’s first physician to declare that his patient will be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” alleged that a Trump aide, accompanied by other men, barged into Bornstein’s medical office and took Trump’s medical records.
Bornstein said that the crew walked away with the original and only copies of the medical records he kept on his longtime patient, Donald J. Trump. The White House said it took possession of the medical records as part of “standard operating procedure,” and a separate source told CNN that a flustered Bornstein simply handed over the originals when he couldn’t get his copier to work.
Bornstein is sticking with his story, so far. As for what to make of it, despite what any of us might assume, our medical records do not belong only to us. They also belong to the physician, clinic, hospital, etc., that created them. The federal government and the states have rules pertaining to medical records access, but patients – or their aides – cannot simply go into the hospital and remove the only copy of their medical files. That is stealing.
Bornstein is essentially alleging a holdup, where the bandits demanded and got the material they sought through a show of extra-legal force. Bornstein did not file a police report after the incident, but he certainly could have.
I spoke with TJ Raimey, senior associate attorney at Atlanta’s Bader Law Firm, who told me that “without a warrant, without notice by the government to seize property, that’s a violation of someone’s rights.” A former police officer himself, Raimey says that “the intellectual property contained within those records, that’s the property of the treating physician, he has the right to his papers and objects.”
Raimey stops short of calling the alleged “raid” a robbery since Bornstein and his office gave up the records willingly, but they did so under intimidation, opening up the door to a possible constitutional rights violation.
As for Bornstein’s grievances, the President’s crew descended on his office shortly after he’d confided to a New York Times reporter that the President takes Propecia to stimulate hair growth. Bornstein claims his choosing to reveal this information “certainly was not a breach of medical trust. … What’s the matter with that?”
Bornstein may view hair loss as a trivial matter given the severity of other medical conditions he may diagnose and treat, but it’s not up to us as physicians to decide what medical information does or does not deserve protection. Our professional ethics and even the law itself are clear on this matter – all health information unique to an individual must be protected.
Simply put, if Trump didn’t grant Bornstein permission to share his use of Propecia with the world, he shouldn’t have done so. Moreover, it’s simply baffling how anyone who knows Trump at any level might not have picked up on a certain follicular sensitivity.
But by virtue of committing this professional ethical violation, Bornstein didn’t deserve a squad of hulking men barging in and demanding his office records, dispatched by the newly sworn-in President of the United States.
In choosing Jackson over Bornstein as his physician, the President got a man more like himself, recent reporting suggests, one comfortable with deploying his own form of workplace intimidation. But perhaps not a physician more inclined to keep medical secrets, as, according to CNN, there were alarms raised that Jackson was too loose-lipped about Karen Pence’s private medical care. Both Jackson and the White House deny this alleged misconduct.
Speaking of loose lips, Bornstein is now saying he didn’t really write that surreal doctor’s letter describing then-candidate Trump as a thoroughbred among the presidential pack. He told CNN the candidate dictated the remarks, which Bornstein lightly edited by filtering out what Trump couldn’t reasonably claim.
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Bornstein is on record repeatedly defending the letter and his authorship despite the document’s similarity to the President’s speech patterns. So, Bornstein lied, selling out his professional integrity to his most famous patient, only to see his loyalty rewarded by a “raid” of his office once the man he served assumed leadership of the free world.
Now Jackson has joined Bornstein in a group that seems destined to grow. There’s nothing unique about the medical professionals serving this President that distinguishes them from the other hangers-on. Small-mindedness, personal vendettas and sketchy ethics infect doctor and patient alike.