It Actually Matters If Your Doctor Is a Republican or Democrat

October 3rd 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Everyone has a different process for picking a doctor. Maybe you look at the doctor's affiliations with hospitals or schools, or maybe you ask your friends to give you a good recommendation.

However there's an unusual question you may have not considered when picking a doctor: what is the doctor's political party affiliation?

A new study by Yale researchers, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that on "politicized" issues, like abortion, marijuana, and guns, doctors registered with either the Republican or Democratic Party had different conversations and advice for their patients.

Researchers linked public information about primary care doctors' party affiliation in 29 states. Then, they sent out a survey on patient care that outlined nine patient-doctor scenarios. More than 200 doctors responded.

On the survey, the doctors rated the seriousness of each health issue and also said what health options they would likely choose to address the issues.

Republicans and Democrats showed substantial differences in their treatment of patients on controversial issues.

Republican doctors were more concerned about previous abortions and also marijuana use, according to The Washington Post. They were twice as likely as the Democrats to advise against abortion and 35 percent more likely to talk about the mental health effects of an abortion with patients, the study found.

Democrats were more worried about gun access and patents who had sex with sex workers. They were also less likely to talk to their patients about the risks of marijuana use. Also Democrats were 66 percent more likely to discourage patients from keeping guns in their house, but less likely to discuss specific safety and gun storage practices, according to the Post.

The study authors wrote that these distinctions are important because they show that bias can affect patient care.

"Physician partisan bias can lead to unwarranted variation in patient care," the study's authors wrote. "Awareness of how a physician’s political attitudes might affect patient care is important to physicians and patients alike."

Doctors' biases can bleed into their patient care.

Earlier this year, a study from researchers at the University of Virginia found that 42 percent of white second year medical students surveyed thought that black people have thicker skin than white people. About 29 percent of white first year medical students surveyed thought that black people's blood clots quicker and 14 percent of second year medical students believed that black people had less sensitive nerve endings. None of that is true.

Several studies show that black patients are prescribed less pain medication than white patients and are less likely to be referred to a specialist for certain conditions, according to CNN.

"Like it or not, all of us hold unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups," Dr. Rene Salazar from the University of California, San Francisco told CNN last year. Dr. Salazar teaches a class about bias to medical students. He said that understanding that everyone has some unconscious bias can help prevent it from affecting patient care.

"A trick that I use is that I pause before I walk in, take 10 seconds even, 15 seconds, just to try to clear your mind and go in with that clean slate," he told CNN.

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