Politics plays a role in almost every facet of human life whether we like it or not. Researchers have even concluded that political views influence common activities such as online dating and shopping patterns. However, the influence of politics in medicine doesn’t seem so distinct at a first glance despite increasing levels of political affiliation among doctors. For example, did you know that political contributions made by physicians increased by 350% from 1990 to the present day? How does this heightened interest in politics influence the provision of health care? And does it actually matter if your physician is a Democrat or a Republican?
Two researchers from Yale University namely Matthew Goldenberg and Eitan Hersh decided to answer these pertinent questions. Their work involved the comparison of two databases, one was on primary care physicians, and another one was on voter registration. The results from this comparison showed that party affiliation among the physicians stood at 55.3% Democratic. The rest were Republican or independent.
Then the researchers composed questions on drinking, abortion, driving, tobacco use, obesity, and firearms. Goldenberg and Hersh asked the physicians in their database to answer those questions. Only 230 of them responded. However it was enough to come to certain conclusions.
The findings of the study
Democrats were 66% more likely to advise their patients against having firearms – a rather rare topic that, if brought up by a physician, looked upon as highly inappropriate by most patients – in their home than Republicans were. Physicians who belong to the Democratic were also less likely to talk to their patients about safe gun practices than Republican physicians.
Nevertheless, Republican doctors also spoke to their patients based on their party's stand on issues. For example, Republican physicians were two times more likely to advise their patients against abortion than their Democratic counterparts. Republicans were also 35% more likely to talk to their patients about the mental effects of abortion than Democrats were.
It is clear that the physicians in this study advised their patients based on their party's position – at least when it came to certain matters. The advice given to patients on matters such as drinking, tobacco use, and obesity were consistent. In other words, the physicians did not display any bias when talking to their patients about these politically neutral issues. What does this study mean for you? Well, it simply shows you that bias among physicians may exist when it comes to some controversial matters, such as gun possession and abortion, for example.