Doctors’ politics can influence patient treatment

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There’s just no escaping politics, even in the doctor’s office.

Doctors’ political views influence their treatment decisions when it comes to highly politicized health issues such as marijuana use, gun safety and abortion, a new study by Yale University researchers found.

The researchers surveyed a sample of more than 200 Democratic and Republican primary care physicians in 29 states asking them to respond to nine patient vignettes, three of them addressing those especially politicized health issues. The doctors rated the seriousness of the health issue and their likelihood of taking specific actions. On the politicized issues, and no others, expressed concerns and recommendations fell along partisan lines, according to the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

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“The evidence suggests that doctors allow their political views to influence their professional decisions in the medical exam room,” Eitan Hersh, an assistant professor of political science at Yale and co-author of the study, said in an announcement.

Republican physicians expressed more concern about the vignettes on marijuana use and abortion. Democratic physicians were more concerned about firearms in the home. Physicians of both parties similarly reacted to non-political issues such as depression, alcohol abuse and obesity.

Both physicians and patients should be aware of how a doctor’s political attitudes might affect patient care, the researchers said, particularly considering how the politicized issues in question can affect patient health, co-author Matthew Goldenberg, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, said in the statement. To that end, he said, doctors need increased training for potential personal biases.

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