A new study has found that the political beliefs which inform many decisions and views in non-political domains also “predict the professional decisions of primary care physicians”.
Via the LA Times:
“The researchers focused on primary care doctors — including internists, general practitioners and family medicine providers — in the 29 states where voters can register their party affiliation. They only included physicians who identified as either Democrats or Republicans, since the difference between these two groups was likely to be the most pronounced.
“Ultimately, they invited 1,529 doctors to complete an online survey asking how they would handle patients in a variety of scenarios. A total of 233 complied.
“Some of the hypothetical patients had health issues that were intended to be apolitical. For instance, in one of the nine vignettes, a patient with a body mass index high enough to qualify as obese says he doesn’t exercise on a regular basis. (On a seriousness scale of 1 to 10, the doctors rated this a 7.8.) In another, a patient confesses to riding his motorcycle to work without wearing a helmet. (This got a seriousness score of 8.4.)
“In these examples, along with four others, Republican and Democratic doctors agreed about the seriousness of the health issues. The least controversial scenario centered on a patient who was battling depression. (In one case, Republicans and Democrats agreed that it was risky for a patient to have sex with prostitutes, but the Republican doctors were more likely to bring up the legal risks of doing so as well as the impact it could have on the patient’s “personal relationships.”)
“The only significant differences came up in the three vignettes that the study authors described as “politically salient.” In addition to the ones about abortion and guns, the researchers found a partisan difference in responses to a patient who said he used marijuana recreationally about three times a week. Compared with Democrats, Republicans were more likely to urge the patient to cut back on his habit, citing both health and legal concerns.
“The study results suggest that patients can expect to get different kinds of medical care depending on where their doctor lies along the political spectrum, the researchers wrote.”
Critics such as Representative Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who co-chairs the GOP Doctors Caucus, say that partisanship doesn’t matter when it comes to healthcare. “When a patient walked into my office, I didn’t know if they were a Republican or a Democrat, and I honestly didn’t care…Party affiliation should have nothing to do with patient care”. That is true, says one of the paper’s authors, but the doctor’s judgments are implicitly bias, outside of conscious thought. And it’s important for patients to understand anything which may affect their treatment. “Patients in a medical examination room are in a fairly vulnerable position,” he says. “They’ve put a lot of trust in their doctor. It’s important for all of us to understand how a doctor’s ideological biases might affect their judgment.”
It’s unclear whether a doctor’s political affiliation affects actual care provided, but the results of the study suggest this may be the case. And some such as the Human Rights Campaign, who encourages gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients to seek out doctors who are “friendly” to LGBT people, are convinced this to be true. Similarly, patients who would prefer to seek treatment from a doctor opposed to abortion can find one in an online directory from the American Assn. of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.