Talking Politics with Patients
Ryan M. Eggers, MA

The political debate about health systems is still raging around the United States, and patients are constantly bombarded with information about politics and medicine from friends, coworkers, and the media. Some of that information is true, and some is not. One important source patients may turn to is one they implicitly trust: their physician. Physicians are valuable sources of information regarding the current state of medical practice and the necessary changes to it. While few physicians will get the chance to testify before Congress or interview on television, all physicians have the opportunity to engage in the politics of medicine with their patients. However, engaging patients in this area can be a tricky venture.

The first difficulty lies in an accurate definition of the term politics. The original usage of the term originated from Aristotle’s book Politics, which translates as “the things concerning the polis [Greek city-state],” or “affairs of state.”1 Thus, a common connotation of politics is “that which concerns the operation of government.” Other definitions can range from “specific legislative actions” to “anything that influences the thought of another person or organization, especially in an attempt to resolve conflict or come to a collective decision.” For the purpose and scope of this article, politics refers to ideas or actions that relate to the operation of a governmental or regulatory organization.

Our political feelings and opinions are practical extensions of our worldview, and our worldview is deeply connected to our individual sense of what it means to be human. That is, politics is linked to our deepest sense of ourselves. By nature of the role of government and our sense of duty to follow laws, politics also carries with it profound potential consequences for our lives. These two things contribute to making political discussions highly contested and emotional …

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