To Lie or Not to Lie?

Have you ever been advised to lie on a medical statement when signing in for a dive? Have you ever lied on a medical form simply so you could dive? Have you ever lied anyway, despite getting all necessary medical clearances, simply to avoid confrontation?

Have you ever felt like it was all a complete waste of time — or worse, an invasion of your privacy?

You’re not alone.

Despite the debates, questions and hackles they can raise, medical statements will likely be encountered during your diving career. Properly executed, they can be an important element of dive safety.

From a Legal Perspective

Many dive operators establish their own guidelines for judging whether a certified diver is medically fit to engage in certain types of diving. By asking each diver to complete a medical history form, the operator is trying to avoid undue risk to both his business and the other divers. The document is intended to protect, but if the dive staff encourages customers to misrepresent their medical conditions, it defeats this purpose.

While the law may differ depending on location and interpretation, when a diver signs a medical form, he is generally attesting to the accuracy of his statements. Most forms require you to acknowledge that the statements are both accurate and complete.

A liability waiver usually accompanies the medical history form. When a diver signs a waiver, it generally becomes a contractual agreement that he will not be entitled to recover damages from the dive operator if said operator engages in negligent conduct.

When a customer misrepresents his fitness to dive on a medical history form, the legal protection of the dive operator is not necessarily violated. He has the right to rely on written representations that a diver makes about his medical conditions. In fact, a diver’s decision to omit parts of his medical history may give the dive operator further legal protection through an assumption of risk defense. By failing to provide the information, it can be logical to conclude that the diver elected to assume all risk related to the undisclosed medical condition.

What is the Medical Statement?

The medical statement is a set of unified standards evolved from the need for minimum health standards prior to initiating dive training. Over the decades, fitness protocols for recreational divers have varied widely. Typically established by training agencies, medical statements often integrate input from dive medicine professionals.

As the sport gained popularity and attracted a broader population, dive medicine and research have consolidated the information typically asked, and now most medical forms address a balance of physical and psychological stability.

Why is t he Medical Statement Necessary?

Despite its laid-back, relaxing atmosphere, scuba diving and the environmental conditions encountered are potentially stressful to the human body. Though we know a great deal more today about dive injury prevention and have increased safety standards, accidents still occur.

We often hear statements like, “Had I only known it could be like this”; the hardest scenarios occur when it’s too late to change a tragic outcome. Conditions vary, and divers need to be fit enough to respond to worst-case scenarios. The medical statement is intended to red flag any medical issue that may be contraindicated to diving — before the diver gets in the water — as well as to provide information should a diver get injured and be unable to speak for himself.

Sadly, each year DAN® learns of dive accidents and mishaps that occur to divers who have been less than honest in their medical statements. Perhaps the various forms can seem overly generalized, but they do serve as a good starting point in helping people foresee some of the potential health risks associated with recreational diving.

How Should You Answer the Questions?

When faced with a medical statement, the approach to answering questions is simple: Answer them honestly. Lying on a form not only leaves you open to injury, it may impede appropriate medical care due to the omission of vital information.

Be Proactive

Early, proactive approaches to personal health can make a big difference. If you have specific health issues, call your medical professional to make sure you are cleared to dive. Call ahead to the dive operator as well; discuss your medical condition with him and find out what documentation he’ll require to allow you to dive with him. DAN can assist you with information and medical referrals, or even discuss a given medical condition with a dive operator who’s unsure about whether your condition is contraindicated to diving. With a proactive approach, it is very likely you will not only receive the medical evaluation you need, but also the appropriate documentation that will enable you to fill out the questionnaire honestly and make it a useful part of safe diving practices.

No one can deny that committed divers have a strong desire to continue diving after a challenge to their health or after developing medical conditions as they age. To lower the risk of injury, divers should honestly disclose and address health concerns. Though it may raise more immediate questions when answering “yes” on a medical form, in the long run, truthful replies increase your safety as well as the safety of everyone around you.

© Alert Diver — Q4 Fall 2010