Depending upon your political views and your lifestyle choices,the most important fact you may want to know about your primarycare physician isn’t where your doctor went to school, but whatpolitical party they belong to.

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That’s what a study by Yale University suggests. Researchersthere wanted to know if a physician’s political beliefs might havean effect on the medical care or advice they handout to patients.

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According to the Fresno Bee, researchers created two groups ofphysicians: One composed of registered Democrats, the other ofregistered Republicans. They were then asked questions about theiradvice to patients on matters that could be considered politicallycharged.

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On such non-political issues as alcohol abuse, riding amotorcycle without a helmet, and treating depression, both groupslaid out pretty much the same course of action. But when thequestions turned to politically tinged matters, the results werequite different.

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Among the distinctions:

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When asked what they would say to a woman who’d had priorabortions, but wasn’t currently pregnant, GOPdoctors “were twice as likely as their Democratic counterparts tosay they'd discourage any future abortions and 35 percent morelikely to discuss so-called mental health aspects of abortion,”study co-author Eitan Hersh, a Yale political science professor,told the Bee.

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When asked what advice they would offer to a male recreationalmarijuana user, Republican physicians were 64percent more likely to lay out the risks of marijuana use than wereDemocrat-voting doctors. The GOP doctors were also 47 percent morelikely to suggest cutting back on smoking marijuana.

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When asked what advice they would give to patients concerningthe existence of firearms in the home, Democrats were 66 percentmore likely to tell patients not to store guns at home if they hadsmall children living there. Republicans were far more likely todiscuss the safe home storage of firearms than to suggest they notbe stored at home, the survey says.

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The study authors say their main takeaway is patients probablydon’t know they’ll likely receive different feedback on certainmedical issues depending on the politics of their physician. Whileit might seem awkward or intrusive to inquire about a doctor’spolitical leanings, doing so could lead to a better doctor-patientrelationship.

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"We don't leave things at the door," says Dr. MatthewGoldenberg, a Yale psychiatrist who co-authored the research. "Bothpatients and practitioners should be aware that there are thesebiases."

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.