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Our Political Leanings Distort Our Assessment of Unrelated Expertise

By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Aug 27, 2018

Can our political leanings distort our assessment of unrelated expertise? More specifically, can a person’s political leanings—which differ from her healthcare provider’s political leanings—affect that person’s relationship with her physician? A recent article in The New York Times addresses this issue and raises the question of whether a patient may be more likely to assume that a doctor has made a medical mistake or is guilty of medical negligence as a result of that doctor’s politics.

In short, as the article asks, would you go to a Republican doctor if you are a Democrat (or vice versa)? And if so, would you be more likely to question your doctor’s knowledge or expertise because of his or her different political beliefs?

Knowing a Professional’s Political Leanings Should Not Affect Your Assessment, Yet It Can Change the Way You View Your Doctor

The article takes this point as its premise: “Knowing a person’s political leanings should not affect your assessment of how good a doctor she is . . . .  But in practice, does it?” A team of researchers conducted a study on this very topic for the journal Cognition. Those researchers determined that having knowledge of people’s political beliefs interferes with the ability to assess those people’s expertise in other, unrelated areas.

Social scientists describe this as something known as a “halo effect.” In short, if people believe that others share their political beliefs (or other subjectively good ideas), then those people are more likely to assume that those others are also “good along other, unrelated dimensions as well.” We tend to assume that, when a person has a political position that we find favorable, the person is also good at other unrelated areas.

Previous Researchers Address the Link Between Politics and Medical Practice

This is not the first study of its kind to address the possible relationship between politics and medical practice. Previous studies have questioned whether patients view their healthcare providers differently when they learn about the healthcare provider’s general politics or political position on a particular issue.

For example, a 2012 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine discussed the ways in which a doctor’s position on abortion can affect the way a patient views that doctor’s expertise. Similarly, a recent article in the medical journal CMAJ explored the ways in which a pediatrician’s political position on gun safety and school shootings can change the way parents view that doctor’s expertise.

According to the author of that article in CMAJ, physicians take very different positions on the role of politics in the exam room. Some physicians believe it is important to address political issues with their patients, while others believe it is necessary to keep political positions completely separate from medical care and treatment. And some physicians believe that certain political issues can be relevant to a patient’s care. Specifically, one medical school administrator cited in the article discussed the links between gun safety and child health.

Learn More from a Medical Negligence Lawyer

We need to be careful when it comes to our assessments of medical providers based on their political leanings. At the same time, if you have suffered an injury because of a healthcare provider’s negligence, it is important to learn more about filing a claim by talking to a medical malpractice lawyer. An advocate at our firm can speak with you today. Contact the Law Offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth to learn more about our services.

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