At your next doctor's appointment, while you sit there in that paper gown and talk about everything from diet to exercise, sleep to sex habits, there's a good bet politics won't come up. But your doctor's political leanings still might come into play.
A new study from researchers at Yale University finds that primary care physicians often interact with their patients over politically charged issues like abortion and gun control. And how they stand politically impacts what they say to their patients on those topics.
For example, Republican doctors were more likely than Democratic doctors to suggest that patients consider the mental health ramifications of seeking an abortion, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Similarly, doctors registered as Democrats would be more apt to suggest that patients who own guns keep them out of their homes, while those registered as Republicans would be more likely to suggest that firearms be locked up in the house.
For the findings, the researchers linked the records of 20,000 primary care physicians (internists, general care practitioners and family medicine providers) with their political affiliations in the 29 states where voters can register party affiliation. They then invited doctors to take an online survey, asking how they would respond to patients in various scenarios. A total of 233 doctors took the survey.
The doctors weighed in on nine scenarios. Three of the issues were especially politicized: marijuana, abortion and firearm storage, and these were the three areas where the Democrat and Republican doctors were sharply divided on how they would advise patients.
The gun storage and abortion results were already mentioned above. In the case of marijuana use, the Republican doctors were more likely to advise patients to kick the habit for health and legal reasons.
In the other, less polarizing situations, the doctors were more in agreement. Those issues included an obese patient who didn't exercise and a motorcycle owner who refused to wear a helmet.
"On the politicized health issues — and only on such issues — Democratic and Republican physicians differed substantially in their expressed concern and their recommended treatment plan," the authors wrote. "Physician partisan bias can lead to unwarranted variation in patient care. Awareness of how a physician’s political attitudes might affect patient care is important to physicians and patients alike."