By Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP
When we physicians graduate medical school, may of us take the Hippocratic oath, embracing the art of medicine and swearing that we will care for our patients to the best of our ability and judgement. We take this oath seriously and use judgement every day in our practice.
So when this study by Yale researchers found that some physicians may approach their patient differently based on their political views, I could imaging the gasps by those who read this study but also the nods of reluctant belief.
So how could this happen?
Well first lets look at the study. Drs. Eitan D. Hersh and Matthew N. Goldenberg of Yale University studied only 231 registered-to-vote physicians and their responses after reading multiple politically charged patient cases. These were cases where fictional patients described their medical history incorporating a “hot-button” topic such as gun ownership, abortion, marijuana use, etc. When the physicians were asked what their concerns were after reviewing the history, Democratic physicians seemed more concerned with the patient having a gun or being a “sex worker”, where as the Republican physicians were more concerned with guns being stored safely. Marijuana and abortion issues were found to be of more concerning to Republican doctors than Democrats. Again this was a very small sample size of physicians.
Both sides of the aisle found topics such as obesity, heavy drinking, and motorcycle helmet use to be equally serious.
So will your doctor treat you differently if he is a Democrat of Republican? Cases have been made regarding religious affiliation and approach to the patient and many physicians have been faulted for injecting their own personal beliefs when guiding patient care.
But can we eliminate bias completely? Many physicians pray with their patients, offer “Congratulations” when they marry, assist with the grieving process when a patient’s family member dies, and these could be considered bias by some, but by others welcomed.
I’m of the belief that a patient deserves to know what he or she is getting in terms of their doctor. When they shop around, may find medial providers that appeal to them. If I’m a fan of alternative medicine, or instead prefer using pharmaceuticals, I need to make that known to my patients. And families finding the right doctor for them, should interview their provider on important topics such as immunization, birth control, after hour preferences, etc.
A physician still deserves the same privacy as any one else when it comes to their political and religious beliefs, however, we dedicate our lives and practice to helping patients. What we feel is in the best interest of our patients may be a mixture of training, spirituality, and instinct. So your provider will never be “bias” free. However, if you don’t feel your guidance has the appropriate level of objectivity, I will quote Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and say “You better shop around!”