Dr. Manny Alvarez: Trump's mental health and the duty doctors have to the wider world

Let’s get one thing straight: Under no circumstances should a doctor diagnose anyone without a physical examination.

So why is it that a psychiatrist at one of America’s most highly revered medical institutions is able to meet with more than a dozen lawmakers -- all Democrats with the exception of one Republican, according to Politico -- to brief them on what she believes is an “unraveling” President Trump, having never examined him?

The private briefings, which reportedly occurred over two days in early December, were led by Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine. Lee and her colleagues warned officials on Capitol Hill of their belief that President Trump is becoming unhinged and that they are “already seeing the signs,” according to Politico.

In order for her to validate her assessment, she would need to physically examine the president, review his medical history, and look at any specific medical data that was relevant to her diagnosis -- just to start.

Not only is it unethical to render a professional medical opinion based on casual observation, it undermines the entire diagnostic process and further stigmatizes mental illness.

Not only is it unethical to render a professional medical opinion based on casual observation, it undermines the entire diagnostic process and further stigmatizes mental illness.

In subsequent interviews, Lee even went as far as to claim that should government officials not take action now in regarding the president’s mental state, it could mean the “extinction of the human species.”

While Lee, herself, may not think her actions violate the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater Rule, which was made to prevent armchair diagnoses such as this, I believe she needs to recalibrate her moral compass as a healer.

Over the past two weeks, her opinions have caused a media firestorm, giving her a bigger platform to continue to make damaging and irresponsible statements.  

Many doctors make the mistake of diagnosing medical conditions through the media. And by doing so, they are participating in one of the most unethical activities a physician can be party to.

In my years as a medical journalist, I have often found myself ambushed by reporters and producers asking about specific diagnoses, but I have always done my best to answer their questions explaining the processes involved in a certain area of medicine or by giving the potential of a differential diagnosis.

A differential diagnosis is when a physician, through evidence-based information, gives different clinical outcomes -- without committing to a definitive diagnosis. For Lee and her colleagues to attack a sitting president based on his public appearances and Twitter interactions is perhaps even sanctionable in the eyes of the medical community of which they participate.

There’s a big problem today in America where, because of the power of social media, people can easily fall victim to the court of public opinion before ever being tried for their perceived crime. It’s a sad state of affairs for our legal system, and honestly, I’m don’t have the solution to that problem. But what I do know, is we need to hold our physicians and medical community at large to a higher standard than that.

Let’s remember the oath we all took to become healers and not be so nonchalant when it comes to practicing medicine by throwing around dangerous diagnoses. Leave the Twitter analyses to the Twitterverse.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.