It is necessary to understand how doctors’ own political worldviews may impact their actions in the medical examination room.

Physicians regularly interact with patients on politically sensitive health issues, and the medical profession is increasingly politicized (eg, state governments are regulating politicized aspects of medicine). Eitan D. Hersh and Matthew N. Goldberg, evaluated whether political beliefs predict professionals decisions of primary care physicians in the October issue of PNAS.

“Physicians frequently interact with patients about politically salient health issues, such as drug use, firearm safety, and sexual behavior,” write study authors. “We [investigated] whether physicians’ own political views affect their treatment decisions on these issues.”

The survey included over 20,000 primary care physicians in 29 U.S. states, who were linked to a voter registration database to obtain the physicians’ political party affiliations. Respondents evaluated nine patient vignettes, three of which addressed especially politicized health issues (marijuana, abortion, and firearm storage)

For physicians responding on those three issues, Republican and Democratic doctors registered different levels of concern and said they would respond differently. When it came to the patient with a history of abortions, Republican doctors were more likely to encourage counseling and discourage future abortions. For the patient who used marijuana, Republican doctors said they’d be more likely to ask the patient to cut back and to discuss legal risks of using the drug. For the patient with guns, doctors who were Democrats indicated they’d be more likely to tell the patient not to keep guns at home while Republican doctors would be more likely to discuss safe storage options.

“These findings suggest you are going to get different care,” Professor Hersh said. However, they might for patients whose needs were closely related to politically divisive subjects (eg, contraception, HIV prevention, etc).