Study: Physicians' political leanings influence treatment plans

There are greater differences between Democratic and Republican physicians than how they vote. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that when faced with hypothetical scenarios involving politically contested issues, physicians of diverging political leanings also make different treatment decisions, The Washington Post reported.

The study, conducted by researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., used publicly available information on practicing physicians' party affiliations. The 233 physicians who responded to the mailed survey did not know the study was on politics. Instead, they thought it was intended to glean how they administered the "social" survey, or the interview that primary care physicians hold with new patients about lifestyle and health risks.

Participants of the study were asked to evaluate nine hypothetical scenarios they could face with patients. They were told to evaluate how concerned they'd be about the issue and indicate how likely they would be to turn to various treatment options, according to the Post.

The physicians' responses demonstrated significant differences between providers identified as Democrats or Republicans when it came to politically charged issues, according to the report. For instance, Republicans were most concerned about hypothetical patients who had multiple prior abortions or used marijuana, while Democrats were most concerned about access to guns and patients who had sexual contact with sex workers.

The treatment plans physicians indicated they would use also differed by political party. Overall, Republican physicians were more likely than Democrats to say they would pursue "active treatment" options, such as encouraging a patient to stop having sexual contact with sex workers and scale back on marijuana use. When the scenarios involved less politicized issues, such as alcohol consumption or smoking cigarettes, the difference shrank, according to The Washington Post.



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