AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. January 2005, Volume 7, Number 1.

Module 1

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Case 1.3: Physicians' Political Communications with Patients and Their Families—Who Should I Vote For?

Option Comparison

The manner in which physicians advocate for political candidates and issues can have serious consequences for the patient-physician relationship. Patients can easily become concerned that they will disappoint or anger the physician if they disagree with the physician's opinion and that the disagreement might affect the health care they receive. Other variables, such as the length of a particular patient-physician relationship or degree of formality in the relationship, can affect how patients feel about complying or disagreeing with the physician's political opinions.

When physicians indiscriminately exercise their right to advocate for political causes, as in option A, they are exhibiting a lack of concern for the effect on the individual patient and thus should avoid doing so as a general practice. Asking patients to take flyers with instructions on how to notify their elected representatives, as in option B, is an acceptable form of political advocacy. Option C is the preferred course of action because it provides the patient or family with relevant information but allows them to make the final choice for whom they vote. Option D—explaining that talking politics with patients is taboo—is acceptable in maintaining clear professional boundaries between physician and patient.

Preferable: Option C

Acceptable: Options B and D

Avoid: Option A

Additional discussion and information

The people and events in this case are fictional. Resemblance to real events or to names of people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.