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If you thought you were in politically neutral territory when you stepped foot in your doctor’s office, think again.
According to a new Yale University study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the medical treatment decisions your doctor makes may be influenced by political beliefs, especially when it comes to hot-button issues such as gun safety, abortion and marijuana.
After linking records of primary care doctors to voter registration data to determine physicians’ political affiliations, Yale researchers surveyed a sample of 231 Democratic and Republican doctors. The physicians were asked to evaluate nine patient vignettes so the researchers could determine if politics plays a role in the medical decisions they make in the exam room.
The doctors reacted similarly to patient scenarios dealing with depression, alcohol abuse, obesity and not wearing a motorcycle helmet.
But when encountering more highly charged issues, like marijuana use and gun safety, the study reveals that physicians’ personal beliefs influenced how they responded to and treated patients. According to Yale News:
“Democratic doctors were more likely to urge patients against storing firearms in the home while Republican physicians were more likely to counsel patients on the mental health risks of abortion and to urge patients to cut down on marijuana use and consider the legal risks of using the drug.”
In light of this, the study authors recommend that consumers consider a doctor’s political stance when choosing a physician to treat them – much as some patients choose a doctor based on sex in order to feel more comfortable.
Study co-author Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, says the study should also be an eye-opener for doctors. Goldenberg tells Yale News:
“The evidence calls for heightened awareness among physicians and more training concerning our biases in how we address politically salient health issues.”
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