When a patient asks about their physician’s political views, everything depends on the existing relationship.
Explore This IssueOctober 2020
According to Jerry Avorn, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and author of the JAMA opinion article, “Engaging with Patients on Health Policy Changes,” (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2666172) when a patient asks about their physician’s political views, everything depends on the existing relationship.
“Some doctors, especially in small communities, may have a friendship or social relationship with the patient,” he said. “That would be different from one in which it’s all about the medical care only. In the latter case, I’d stay away from political chat unless the patient gives permission by asking for one’s views.”
About Healthcare Policy
From time to time, patients may ask a physician’s opinion on healthcare policy. “This may be because they lack experience in these areas and are truly seeking guidance,” Dr. Avorn said. “In that case, it’s fine to respond to such questions.”
Some health policy issues aren’t as emotionally charged as others, and an appropriate discussion between physician and patient may be possible, said Dr. Holt. For instance, if the patient is interested in learning more about health policies on preventing head and neck cancers, that topic could be pursued. Or, in the current clinical environment, the patient may request an educated opinion on the available evidence for the use of alternative therapies in treating COVID-19 infections. “Evidence should be provided for most questions on health policies, with expert avoidance of trigger comments or personal viewpoints,” Dr. Holt said.
The best way to address healthcare policy concerns with patients without politicizing them is to keep the focus where it belongs. “Explain to the patient that this is about their healthcare coverage,” said Dr. Avorn, “and not a Republican-Democratic political issue, per se.” In the event that it becomes clear the patient still feels uncomfortable with the discussion, it’s best to back off. “You just need to lay the basic idea before them and educate them, as we would do with other risks like social distancing and hand washing,” Dr. Avorn said.
Dr. Avorn said he would only discuss the topic of COVID-19 in terms of safety or with a patient who brings it up with regard to their personal healthcare. If, on the other hand, the patient asks directly about the federal or state response to the pandemic, Dr. Avorn said that would open the door to answering with one’s opinions. “It would be silly to say, ‘I can’t talk to you about that,’” he said.