In his paper published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine in 1992, Professor E. Krakauer aims to explore the relationship “between medical management of the human body and governmental management of the body politic.” We know that politics influence the medical care that patients receive because there are laws that regulate the medical profession. The laws and regulations concerning abortion is just one particularly controversial example. Another example is the National Organ Transplant Act from 1984 which saw the creation of a organ transplant system that includes a law banning the exchange of payment for an organ. Dr. Sally Satel talks about this and some of its drawbacks in this segment from NPR. Here, we see the ways that politics affect medical care from above, but what about how politics affect medical care from within?
In examining the political orientation of members of the medical profession, this recent New York Times article reveals some interesting trends. For example, the highest concentration of registered republicans is among surgeons, while the lowest is among those specializing in infectious diseases.
This tweet from the author of the article includes a graphic revealing the uneven distribution of political identities within various medical fields.
— Margot Sanger-Katz (@sangerkatz) October 6, 2016
There is no way to definitively prove what is the cause of this distribution of political parties in the medical profession, but many theories have been proposed. Some possible explanations are the difference in salaries from one field to another and the changing demographic of the medical profession in general (i.e. more young doctors, more women doctors).
Professor Hersh and Dr. Goldenberg at Yale University conducted a study looking for any correlation between doctors’ political affiliation and their patients’ recommended care. They found that on politicized medical issues such sexual health and marijuana usage the political views of the doctor does affect the patient’s treatment. Though, as Sanger-Katz points out, the specialties that are most likely to address these issues are pretty evenly split between red and blue. For example, family medicine is listed as 52% red, emergency medicine is 51% red, and Ob/Gyn leans blue with just 47% red.
There’s no evidence here that the relationship between politics and medicine is either entirely positive or negative but, as Professor Hersh said, I believe that there is a need for further research into the ways in which ideology can determine or shape medical practice in the various fields of medicine.