By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017
Who would you rather have as a doctor? Hillary Clinton? Or, Donald Trump? Yale researchers found that primary care physicians address politically sensitive health issues different depending on political affiliation. They surveyed 20,000 primary care physicians across the nation to obtain their political affiliation and professional recommendations for nine patient vignettes. These vignettes highlighted real-life situations related to abortion, marijuana, helmet use, obesity, cigarette use, alcohol use, depression, sex work, and firearm safety. Republicans and Democrats did not significantly differ regarding helmet use, obesity, cigarette use, alcohol use, depression, and sex work. However, Republican were more concerned about abortion and marijuana use, and Democrats were more concerned about firearm safety (Hersh, 2016). This makes sense as these health issues are the most hotly-contested, politically-charged health topics right now in the US.
What does this mean as a patient? Should a doctor’s political affiliation be a factor when a patient is determining who will provide them healthcare? Do patients have a right to know their doctor’s political leanings? The research suggests that in respect to politicized health issues, patients should be cognizant of their doctor’s reactions and recommendations, and if necessary, seek a second opinion. There is no algorithm for healthcare and what works for one patients, does not mean is will work for another. I would argue the most important factors in a patient-doctor relationship are mutual respect and trust, not necessarily political homogeneity.
What does this mean as a doctor? Should a doctor disclose his/her political affiliation to patients? Researchers suggest that doctors should be aware of their political biases on health issues. Doctors should attempt to provide the best treatment in the interest of each patient and not in the interest of a political agenda. Likewise, doctors who cannot do this should recommend that patients seek a second opinion or direct patients to informational resources with depoliticized facts, recommendations, and healthcare options.
Political bias in healthcare is not to be feared or overly criticized, just recognized and responsibly examined by both the provider and patient. After all, doctors are humans just like the rest of us.
Remember to vote next Tuesday, November 8th!
Cummings, M. (2016, Oct 4) Care differs if your doctor is a democrat or republican. Futurity. http://www.futurity.org/politics-doctors-patients-1262862-2/
Hersh, E. D., & Goldenberg, M. N. (2016). Democratic and republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, doi:201606609 [pii]