Par­ti­san di­vide: Docs’ po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion af­fects ad­vice

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Next time you visit a doc­tor’s of­fice, when they ask for your in­sur­ance card, maybe you should ask for a card, too—the doc­tor’s voter reg­is­tra­tion card.

A new study sug­gests pa­tient care may vary de­pend­ing on whether the doc­tor is a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can—at least when it comes to such hot-but­ton health is­sues as firearms safety.

Yale Univer­sity re­searchers looked up voter reg­is­tra­tion records for more than 20,000 pri­mary-care physi­cians and then sur­veyed more than 200 about how they’d re­act to dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios.

Suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion? In de­nial about al­co­hol abuse? Ride a mo­tor­cy­cle with­out a hel­met? The sur­vey found doc­tors of both po­lit­i­cal stripes would re­act about the same.

But Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic doc­tors dif­fered sig­nif­i­cantly over more politi­cized is­sues—abor­tion, mar­i­juana and guns.

Faced with a woman who wasn’t cur­rently preg­nant but had un­der­gone two abor­tions ear­lier in life, GOP doc­tors were twice as likely as their Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts to say they’d dis­cour­age any fu­ture abor­tions and 35% more likely to dis­cuss so-called men­tal health as­pects of abor­tion, said study co-au­thor Ei­tan Hersh, a Yale po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor.

Faced with a man who uses recre­ational mar­i­juana three times a week, Repub­li­can doc­tors were 64% more likely to say they’d dis­cuss pot’s le­gal risks and 47% more likely to urge them to cut back than Demo­cratic doc­tors.

And Demo­cratic docs were 66% more likely to say they’d urge par­ents of small chil­dren not to store guns in the home—while Repub­li­can physi­cians in­stead pre­ferred to ask about safe firearms, con­cluded the sur­vey pub­lished in Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

“This was re­ally an eye-opener,” said bioethi­cist Nancy Ber­linger of the Hastings Cen­ter, a non­par­ti­san re­search in­sti­tute. She wasn’t in­volved with the study but said it sheds light on “im­plicit bias”—the judg­ments we’re not con­sciously aware of mak­ing.

When it comes to deeply par­ti­san di­vides, doc­tors “can’t screen that out just like the rest of us can’t screen it out.”

The study found sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in physi­cians’ ad­vice on cer­tain public health is­sues de­pend­ing on their po­lit­i­cal lean­ings.

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