It seems that when it comes to how doctors treat issues such as drug use, abortions and more, a lot of their decisions have to do with their political views. A new study has suggested that there is a difference between how Republican and Democratic doctors treat patients when facing politically related medical issues.
The new study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was conducted by researchers from Yale who linked a list of party affiliations that political campaigns regularly use in order to target communities with public information of more than 42,000 practicing physicians. After accounting for physicians that were unreachable or unaffiliated a survey was then mailed to the sample of doctors.
A total of 233 physicians responded to the survey. They didn’t know that the current study had a political link because they thought it had something to do with how the social survey was administered by them. Due to the fact that these social surveys can be quite lengthy and cover a lot of factors such as employment and possible health risks, the researchers thought that it would allow them to get a sense of how doctors handle dealing with medical issues that have political relevance.
All of the participants were asked to take part in an evaluation of nine patient-related hypothetical scenarios. They were asked to evaluate the level of concern with regards to the issue and their likelihood of going over the potential options of treatment. The scenarios covered a lot of things such as individuals who rode a motorcycle to work without wearing a helmet to people who went to sex workers on a regular basis.
A stark difference was seen in the decisions made by doctors who identified as Republicans or Democrats. The Republican doctors were observed to be more concerned when facing scenarios that had to deal with marijuana use and multiple past abortions. The Democratic doctors seemed concerned when facing individuals having regular contact with sex works and access to firearms.
The treatment options that both kinds of doctors offered patients also showed a difference. There was a less likelihood of Democratic doctors to discuss possible health risks related to use of marijuana or even urge a patient to cut down in their use of the drug. Compared to Democratic doctors, the number of Republicans who discouraged patients from getting abortions was twice as likely. They also showed a 35% increase, compared to Democratic doctors, to tell patients about the mental health concerns that may rise due to abortions.
The paper’s first author and also an assistant professor of political science at Yale University, Eitan Hersh, said that Democratic doctors showed more concern when faced with scenarios where a patient stored firearms while having young kids around. A total of 66% increase in the likelihood of Democratic doctors urging patients to not store firearms at home was observed.
The current study was able to account for various variables such as gender, religious attendance, and age of the doctors. However, the researchers noted that while a difference in decision making was observed all of the scenarios were hypothetical and that is it was impossible to know if similar decisions would be made by doctors when facing patients in real life.
Hersh hopes that the current results will promote other researchers to conduct studies that will give further support to how an affiliation with a political party can end up effecting the decisions that doctors make related to LGBT health care, a patient wanting to end his or her life, and other controversial issues.
Hersh understands that the current research may face a lot of criticism from other doctors who think that their political views have nothing to do with how they treat their patients. However, Hersh believes that patients should know about where doctors politically stand because patients are in a vulnerable position and a biased doctor might not be able to provide them with the appropriate health care.