The Politics of Practice: Physicians’ Political Views Influence Care
Recent studies suggest that the way in which physicians treat their patients can be influenced by political affiliation. One study carried out by Yale researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences aimed to examine differences in how physicians of varying political affiliations approach certain treatments. The study participants, all physicians, were asked to evaluate hypothetical scenarios. For each scenario, they were asked to specify the extent of their concern and to explain what treatment options they would pursue. The scenarios included cases in which a patient is overweight, a patient smokes, a patient drinks regularly, and so on. Responses varied greatly on cases that included three issues: abortion, marijuana use, and gun ownership. Republican physicians, of all the scenarios, were most concerned about issues surrounding marijuana use. However, physicians who identified as Democrats were less likely to discuss the legal details or health risks surrounding marijuana use when compared to Republicans. Democrats were most concerned about the presence of firearms in a home with children. While Democrats would advise patients against keeping guns at home, Republicans were more likely to address ways in which firearms can be stored. When it came to the topic of abortion, Republicans said they were more likely to discuss the mental health consequences and encourage the patient to seek counseling. In cases that did not involve highly politicized subjects, responses varied only slightly.
Aside from differing care based on political party, studies show that certain areas of medicine attract doctors with certain political affiliations. Over 60% of surgeons, anesthesiologists, urologists, and ENTs (ear-nose-throat physicians) identify as Republican. On the other hand, more than 60% of pediatricians, psychiatrists, and infectious disease specialists align themselves with the Democratic party. Researchers theorize that the source of these differences can be attributed to several different factors. One possibility is that the career itself can shape the individual. For example, infectious disease specialists, who treat many low income patients, can be more likely to align with Democratic candidates who support social safety nets. Another possible factor is money. The specialties with higher average salaries tend to be comprised of a higher number of Republicans while the lower-earning disciplines within the medical field tend to be Democrats. This parallels national data which finds that, while controlling for education level, those with more wealth are more likely to be Republican. Additionally, the changing gender dynamics of the field also seem to play a role. Female physicians, mirroring data from the national population, are more likely than their male counterparts to be Democrats. Therefore, as women enter fields like pediatrics and psychiatry, those fields become more liberal overall.
Blakemore Erin, “Democratic and Republican doctors treat patients differently,” The Washington Post, Oct 3 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/10/03/want-to-know-how-your-physician-will-treat-you-ask-if-they-vote-democrat-or-republican/
Cummings Mike, “Physicians’ political beliefs affect medical treatment,” Yale News, Oct 3 2016, http://news.yale.edu/2016/10/03/physicians-political-beliefs-affect-medical-treatment
Sanger-Katz Margot, “Your Surgeon is Probably a Republican, Your Psychiatrist Probably a Democrat,” The New York Times, Oct 6 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/upshot/your-surgeon-is-probably-a-republican-your-psychiatrist-probably-a-democrat.html?_r=0