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Ethics briefing
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Department of Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, British Medical Association—Medical Ethics, BMA House Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}

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American doctors' political views affect the advice and treatment they give

Doctors' political views can affect the advice they give to patients.1 Eitan Hersh and Matthew Goldenberg, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, published a survey of 200 American doctors that linked political affiliation to the responses to a number of typical patient scenarios. Doctors were asked to rate the seriousness of a series of issues including drinking too much alcohol, smoking tobacco, using marijuana, visiting sex workers, riding a motorbike without a helmet, keeping guns in a house where there were children, being depressed and having had two elective abortions. The responses to the less politically contentious issues such as not wearing a helmet and alcohol consumption were similar. But Republicans expressed more concern about cannabis use and abortion. Democrats on the other hand were more worried about gun storage. Republican doctors were also more likely to advise patients to cut down on cannabis and to raise the associated legal risks. They also took a harder line on abortions. Although the survey could not identify the extent to which these biases were conscious, the authors nonetheless said that this information could be useful for patients. ‘As a patient’ Eitan Hersh suggested,it's useful to ask ‘is my doctor telling me this because it's what the medical evidence says, or is it because of their world view?’ Doctors sometimes say they think of themselves as mechanics, that whatever patient comes in they will treat them the same way. But it's obvious that's not true. It's never the textbook scenario.1

Hersh also suggested that the findings showed a greater need for transparency.

Transparency and conflicts of interest in England

The National Health Service (NHS) in England has launched a consultation on the identification and management of conflicts of interest in the NHS.2 Concerns about conflicts of interest in relation to the …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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