While most patients never once consider a physicians politics before accepting their guidance on important healthcare issues, perhaps they should. A new study shows that patient care often differs depending on whether the doctor is a Democrat or Republican.
Researchers from Yale University recently conducted a survey of more than 200 doctors to see how they would react to certain scenarios involving their patients. What they found is a physician's political affiliation really had no influence on decisions pertaining to common issues, like depression or alcohol abuse, but it most certainly made a difference with respect to seemingly controversial topics, like the consumption of marijuana.
“Our evidence suggests that political beliefs predict the professional decisions of primary care physicians,” the study authors wrote. “On politicized health issues, like marijuana and abortion, physicians' partisan identity is highly correlated with their treatment decisions.”
The survey found that physicians who identify with the Republican Party are less likely to recommend medical marijuana to a patient than their Democratic counterparts. When asked to use a scale of 1-to-10 to rank the seriousness of a multitude of issues, Republican doctors simply couldn’t seem to wrap their head around the concept that marijuana is a medicinal herb, while those with Democratic blood are open to it.
“On nonpolitical issues, there’s really no difference between doctors’ responses,” political scientist and co-author of the study Eitan Hersh told the Huffington Post. “But on marijuana, for example, all the Democrats are saying that it’s not a big deal, and all the Republicans are saying, ‘Yes, this is a big deal.’”
What this means is as more states move to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, patients seeking a recommendation to participate in those programs could have better luck obtaining their goals by visiting with a physician who sides with Democrats.
“Because physicians regularly interact with patients on politically sensitive health issues and because the medical profession is increasingly politicized (e.g., state governments are regulating politicized aspects of medicine), it is necessary to understand how doctors’ own political worldviews may impact their actions in the medical examination room," the study's abstract explains.
The study's authors concluded that patients should research their physician’s politics in order to be provided with a treatment plan compatible with their own beliefs and standards.
“Everyone can look up their doctor’s politics — it’s all public record,” Hersh said. “If the treatment decisions the doctors are making are informed not only by medical evidence but their ideologies as well, then patients might want to think about this when they are choosing their doctor.”