Next time you visit a doctor's office, when they ask for your insurance card, maybe you should ask for a card, too—the doctor's voter registration card.
A new study suggests patient care may vary depending on whether the doctor is a Democrat or a Republican—at least when it comes to such hot-button health issues as firearms safety.
Yale University researchers looked up voter registration records for more than 20,000 primary-care physicians and then surveyed more than 200 about how they'd react to different scenarios.
Suffering depression? In denial about alcohol abuse? Ride a motorcycle without a helmet? The survey found doctors of both political stripes would react about the same.
But Republican and Democratic doctors differed significantly over more politicized issues—abortion, marijuana and guns.
Faced with a woman who wasn't currently pregnant but had undergone two abortions earlier in life, GOP doctors were twice as likely as their Democratic counterparts to say they'd discourage any future abortions and 35% more likely to discuss so-called mental health aspects of abortion, said study co-author Eitan Hersh, a Yale political science professor.
Faced with a man who uses recreational marijuana three times a week, Republican doctors were 64% more likely to say they'd discuss pot's legal risks and 47% more likely to urge them to cut back than Democratic doctors.
And Democratic docs were 66% more likely to say they'd urge parents of small children not to store guns in the home—while Republican physicians instead preferred to ask about safe firearms, concluded the survey published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This was really an eye-opener,” said bioethicist Nancy Berlinger of the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan research institute. She wasn't involved with the study but said it sheds light on “implicit bias”—the judgments we're not consciously aware of making.
When it comes to deeply partisan divides, doctors “can't screen that out just like the rest of us can't screen it out.”