By: Taylor Eisenstein
In 2015, a Florida court upheld a law preventing doctors from inquiring about patients’ gun ownership, unless such questions were deemed relevant to the patient’s medical care; this illustrates how political issues have become increasingly entangled with the doctor’s office. In a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers examined how a primary care physician’s political affiliation might affect how he or she viewed certain health-related issues, some of which had political associations. The study additionally examined how political views affected physicians’ treatment decisions.
Democratic and Republican physicians contacted via mail were presented with several vignettes that addressed politically charged issues—such as marijuana, abortion, and firearms—in addition to issues with less of a partisan divide, such as alcohol and obesity. They were then asked to rank the vignettes in order of “seriousness.” While Democrats were most concerned about situations involving firearms, Republicans were most concerned about situations involving marijuana and abortion. These views are reflective of the partisan divide observed in these politically charged issues.
It is important to note that this study had several limitations: it was survey-based, possessed a small sample size of approximately 200 physicians, and had a small response rate. Thus, the results presented are by no means definitive. However, they raise an interesting point: physicians’ opinions, specifically in regard to political views, may affect the care and advice they provide to patients. Political views, or an individual’s personal views in general, may lead to bias.
Consequently, physicians must be aware of how their views affect their actions while patients must be aware of how physicians’ views might influence decisions in the doctor’s office. Physicians must be conscious of how their personal views might affect professional decisions and their relationships with their patients. Some patients may even deliberately select physicians who share their views. For instance, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides patients with resources to research and select physicians who hold pro-life beliefs.
Further training on how to address these sensitive issues might help to prevent potential bias. Numerous studies have proposed interventions and strategies aimed to reduce physician bias, especially in regard to racial and ethnic disparities.[2,3] Similar trainings and strategies established for other types of bias may be beneficial in maintaining healthy doctor-patient relationships—especially as politics become more and more enmeshed in healthcare.
1. Hersh, E. D., & Goldenberg, M. N. (2016). Democratic and Republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1606609113
2. Burgess, D., van Ryn, M., Dovidio, J., & Saha, S. (2007). Reducing racial bias among health care providers: lessons from social-cognitive psychology. J Gen Intern Med, 22(6), 882-887. doi: 10.1007/s11606-007-0160-1
3. Chapman, E. N., Kaatz, A., & Carnes, M. (2013). Physicians and implicit bias: how doctors may unwittingly perpetuate health care disparities. J Gen Intern Med, 28(11), 1504-1510. doi: 10.1007/s11606-013-2441-1