Nature, Quality of Medical Care Can Differ by Doctors Political Party

In a new study published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the type of counseling and treatment decisions provided by a sampling of doctors was shown to differ greatly according to their individual political party affiliation ("Democratic and Republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues").

According to the authors of the study, its significance is as follows:

“Our evidence suggests that political beliefs predict the professional decisions of primary care physicians. On politicized health issues, like marijuana and abortion, physicians' partisan identity is highly correlated with their treatment decisions. Because physicians regularly interact with patients on politically sensitive health issues and because the medical profession is increasingly politicized, it is necessary to understand how doctors’ own political worldviews may impact their actions in the medical examination room.”

The authors, Eitan D. Hersh, Department of Political Science, Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and Matthew N. Goldenberg, Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, linked the records of over 20,000 primary care physicians across 29 states to voter registration data and then surveyed samples of both Democratic and republic primary care physicians concerning nine health care scenarios involving politically sensitive issues, including such areas as marijuana, abortion and the storage of firearms. 233 physicians responded to the survey, and on such politicized issues, their stated concerns and recommended treatments differed vastly according to the physicians’ political affiliation.

The physicians were not told that the survey involved politics or their affiliation, and focused on pre-examination interview generally conducted by primary-care doctors.

The study’s findings included the following
  • republican doctorss were most concerned about scenarios that included multiple prior abortions and marijuana use
  • Democratic doctors were most concerned about firearm access and patients who had sexual relationships with sex workers
  • Democratic doctors were less likely than republicans to discuss the health risks of marijuana or to emphasize legal risks or encourage the patient to cut down use
  • republican doctors were twice as likely as Democrats to discourage patients from having abortions and 35 percent more likely to bring up mental health issues in connection with abortions
  • republican physicians were more likely than Democrats to encourage patients to stop seeing sex workers or to urge a patient to cut down on marijuana use
  • Conversely, republican doctors did not emphasize that same recommendation to cut down on alcohol consumption or on smoking
  • Democratic doctors were found to be more concerned than republican doctors about a scenario where a patient with young children is storing firearms, in fact, they were 66% more likely to recommend that firearms NOT be stored in a home with young children present
Lead author Hersh has said that based on the study that there are good reasons to check out a doctor’s party affiliation before a consultation, as patients put a lot of trust in their doctors judgment and it could be important to understand how a doctor’s ideological biases might affect their judgment as to treatment options and recommendations.