Politics distracts physicians from taking care of their patients


I was thinking of giving politics a break for my next column, instead focusing on some interesting news in the medical world. But alas, politics has permeated all aspects of life, whether professional sports or the latest TV series.

Few television shows don’t have a same-sex couple or transgendered individual. Sports news can’t avoid discussions of race, climate change or gun control. What about the medical world? Is that too overrun with politics?

Several recent medical stories are worth a look.

First is a study from Yale reported in The New York Times last fall. In many medical specialties, physicians share the political leanings of their colleagues. Most surgeons, anesthesiologists and in my world, ophthalmologists, are Republican, while most infectious-disease specialists, psychiatrists and pediatricians are Democrats. Higher-paid specialists tend to be Republicans.

Do Republicans gravitate to more lucrative specialties or do higher income and higher taxes push physicians in a more conservative direction? Do political leanings affect treatment recommendations?

All unknown but interesting to ponder.

Second is a recent study from Brunel University in London finding that men who are physically weak are more likely to favor socialist policies. Is this a hardwired feature of men’s brains dating back to prehistoric times when strength favored survival and success?

Are men with capitalistic views more likely to visit the gym where they alone determine how strong they become? The rugged individualist mentality. Or do socialist men subscribe to the view that being stronger is unfair, not consistent with social justice and equality?

Another 2013 study from Denmark noted that men’s opinions on wealth redistribution could be predicted by their upper body strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example?

Third is a report from CNN citing a Netherlands study linking climate change to diabetes. The study claimed that as outdoor temperatures rose so did the prevalence of diabetes. Cause and effect or an interesting association? Even CNN acknowledged, buried deep within the article, that “this observational study simply reveals an association between climate and diabetes, not a causation. This is an important distinction glossed over by CNN.

Suppose I told you that during a similar time period, the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool correlated with the films Nicolas Cage appeared in? Or that per-capita cheese consumption correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets? Association does not mean causation. Good science acknowledges this. New headlines may not.

Finally, an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine encouraged physicians to discuss firearm ownership with their patients. Of course, when it’s relevant, such as a potentially suicidal or violent patient. But why would firearm safety be appropriate to discuss during an annual physical? Or in my case, during an eye exam?

Physicians are already under a time crunch, forced to see an ever-increasing number of patients, many with complex medical problems, in shorter time blocks. Why add a potentially lengthy and intrusive subject to an already packed schedule?

What’s the message here? Politics has inched its way into virtually every aspect of our lives. In medicine, it has the potential to distract already harried physicians from the business of taking care of their patients. Let physicians practice their craft, rather than thinking about the latest political fad.

So much for that break from politics.

Brian C. Joondeph is an ophthalmologist and can be reached on Twitter @retinaldoctor. This article originally appeared in the Villager.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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