Should Political Affiliation Be a Consideration in Choosing a Physician?

  1. Recent studies have found that a physician's political affiliation can effect patient care.

    Political beliefs might not seem relevant when choosing a physician, but a recent study found that a physician's political affiliation can effect patient care.

    Eitan D. Hersh, Ph.D. From the Department of Political Science, and Matthew N. Goldenberg MD from the Department of Psychiatry, at Yale University compared party registration of voters in 29 states and all US physicians to determine political leanings.

    While data showed that physicians are fairly split between parties, some specialties seem to attract more members of one party than another. More infectious disease specialists (77%) psychiatrists (76%) pediatricians (68%) and geriatricians (63%) are Democrats according to the researchers, while more surgeons (67%) anesthesiologists (65%) urologists (63%) and ENT specialists (61%) are Republicans.

    Dr Hersh and Dr Goldenberg in a separate study found that Republican physicians were more likely to discuss the health implications and legal risks of marijuana use, while Democratic physicians were more likely to urge patients not to keep guns in the home.

    "These findings suggest you are going to get different care," Dr Hersh said, adding that the differences might not matter much for the average patient, but they might for patients whose needs were closely related to politically divisive subjects like reproductive health, with issues like contraception, abortion and prenatal screening or HIV prevention, with risk factors that include sex and intravenous drug use.

    Dr Hersh believes the findings are important and that along with a physician's gender and medical school, party affiliation is another aspect to consider and could be made available online. While Dr Hersh acknowledges there would be resistance to such a listing, he stated that if he were choosing an ob-gyn he would rather know their party affiliation than where they went to medical school.

    Most physicians used to identify as Republican, but that dynamic had lessened by 2012 according to 2014 research by Adam Bonica from the Department of Political Science at Stanford University and colleagues. They found that political donations by physicians dropped from 70% to Republican candidates to 50% between 1991 and 2012.

    David Rothman Ph.D. From the Center on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, coauthor with Dr Bonica and Dr Rosenthal said that one finding was that women surgeons were not as Democratic as women pediatricians, but they were more Democratic than male surgeons. Dr Rothman noted that women have shifted the balance among physicians.

    The authors concluded that the increasing percentage of female physicians and decreasing percentage of physicians in solo and small practices are likely to contribute to further changes. "The specialties with higher earnings were the ones that were more Republican," said coauthor Howard Rosenthal MD from the Wilf Family Department of Politics, NYC.

    Sally Satal MD, a staff psychiatrist at Partners in Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Counseling, Washington, D.C. said knowing political affiliation can be important in evaluating research. "That's where agendas can creep in," she told Medscape Medical News. "Maybe people wouldn't entertain other hypotheses or other interpretations of their data if they held strong beliefs in one ideology or the other." she said, noting that research on topics that touch on racism or disability can be vulnerable to interpretation based on world views.

    Do you think in the future we might see physician party affiliation listed on a website? Is it important for the public to know or should such information remain private? Would you want to know your physician's political affiliation?

    Dr Hersh, Dr Rothman, Dr Rosenthal and Dr Satel have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

    References: M
    Physician Specialties Correlate With Political Affiliation by Marcia Frellick, Medscape, October 12, 2016

    New York Times, published online October 6, 2016
    Last edit by traumaRUs on Oct 22, '16
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