How bad is that thrice-weekly pot habit? How dangerous is it to keep a gun in your home? A new study by Eitan D. Hersh and Matthew N. Goldenberg of Yale University suggests doctors’ responses to those and other hot-button issues could be colored by their political views.
Hersh and Goldenberg matched up a list of primary care doctors with voter registration rolls. They contacted 1,529 of them to participate in the study, ending up with a sample of 231 doctors. They then had the doctors read a series of vignettes in which patients recounted their medical histories for a physical. Some of the fictional patients talked about politically charged issues, and those vignettes were interspersed with some more neutral complaints like obesity, depression, or not wearing a motorcycle helmet. One involved a patient who smoked pot three times a week, for example, and another fictional patient said she had two abortions in the past five years. In another scenario, a patient reported being a parent of two small children and keeping guns in the home. Hersh and Goldenberg then asked the doctors to rate the seriousness of each issue and describe how they would treat the patient.
How Serious of Problem Would You Consider This?
Democrat doctors rated the gun scenario as more concerning, but the Republican ones felt the marijuana and abortion vignettes were more serious. The differences were still significant after stratifying the doctors by church attendance, gender, and their patients’ socioeconomic status. Meanwhile, political affiliation didn’t seem to affect their views of the seriousness of issues like heavy drinking, obesity, or not wearing a motorcycle helmet.