Trump’s doctor says president is ‘upbeat.’ Is that all Conley can say?

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Dr. Sean Conley clarifies his statements on President Trump’s condition at Walter Reed


A day after evading direct questions about President Donald Trump’s medical treatment, Dr. Sean Conley said Sunday outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center he was “not necessarily” intending to mislead the public.

Conley a Navy commander and the president’s physician, said he was , the 

Dr. Conley, on Saturday, kept dodging questions on whether the president had ever been on supplemental oxygen, only stating that he was (at the time) not on it. The White House later confirmed, anonymously, that Trump was given oxygen at the White House on Friday before going to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

When asked about the contradicting reports from himself and the White House, Conley said Sunday Trump had been on oxygen, and that he was “not necessarily” intending to mislead the public and “trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, the course of his illness has had. (I) didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of the illness in another direction.”

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Conley adds doubt the the veracity of the reports being given by the White House and the president’s medical staff. He admitted that “it came off as if we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”

When asked on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent, said that this isn’t what a physician is supposed to do.

“He’s coming out ot debrief the public about the president … if you’re going to do that then you have to be absolutely honest. It wasn’t just sort of conveying an ‘upbeat attitude.’ It was purposefully misleading yesterday about a very basic issue, which is whether or not the president had been on supplemental oxygen,” Gupta said.

What can be shared, according to HIPAA law?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is set to “assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected, while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being.”

As with any civilian, the law protects the president’s health records from being divulged to the public without his consent.

“The doctors are not going to get on television and contravene the narrative. It’s the president’s privacy. If he doesn’t want to share information with the public, they can’t,” said Dr. Russell Buhr, a pulmonologist and critical care professor at UCLA.

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Trump was admitted to the hospital after contracting the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known as HIPAA, health care workers are not legally allowed to release information about a  patient’s conditions unless the patient gives permission.

There are criminal penalties for HIPAA violations. The minimum fine for willful violation of HIPAA rules is $50,000, the maximum is $250,000, according to the HIPAA Journal.

Health care workers who violate patient’s HIPAA privacy can also be fired or potentially face sanctions from professional boards. For doctors, medical licenses are issued by the states, so their state’s medical board could also lose their medical license suspended.

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In the case of President Trump, who is the commander in chief, military doctors are even more so expected to maintain his privacy.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that the information is going to be very filtered. They’re doing their job,” said Buhr, who served as chief resident at the Washington, D.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center and has worked with and trained military doctors.

What we’re not getting

Conley admitted that he was not entirely truthful at a time when the American people deserve transparency and candidness, said Paul Brandus, a frequent speaker at presidential libraries and author of “This Day in Presidential History.”

“People need to know that the president is a sick man and (the White House) is trying to spin it in a way to minimize the danger that the president is in,” he added. “People should place less credence on what (Dr. Conley) is saying.”

President Trump and his administration have been known to make false or misleading claims to project a favorable image. A fact that has been verified by multiple sources throughout his presidency. 

Trump privately admitted earlier this year to journalist Bob Woodward that the coronavirus was highly contagious and dangerous, going as far as saying that is “rips you apart.” Publicly, however, the president claimed he wasn’t worried about contracting the virus himself.

“No one is surprised that this is what (the White House) is doing. They always try to downplay things. They always try to hide unpleasant facts,” Brandus said, adding that he certainly understand why the administration is doing this in the middle of an election. “But they’ve been doing it since day one.” 

Transparency in the past

This isn’t the first time the veracity of the updates on a president’s health have been placed into question. Several presidents have died from natural causes while in office, and some even tried to conceal their actual state.

Most recently, President Ronald Reagan was not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until five years after leaving office, in 1994. His son, Ron, said his father showed early signs while in office. In 1955, the White House told the press President Dwight Eisenhower had a “digestive upset,” when in fact he suffered a heart attack. And before him, President Franklin Roosevelt – suffering from polio – hid from the public his use of a wheelchair and inability to walk unaided. In 1945, Roosevelt died of a stroke while in office.

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