Is it taboo to talk about politics during the office visit?
My morning routine may sound familiar to many of you: I wake up and get ready for work. Before I step out of my car, I put on my mask. I go inside the office to greet the staff and to get my temperature checked. I don my PPE, and I am ready to start the work day hoping for no disruptions.
My patients come into the office nervous and anxious, but happy to see a friendly face, even with the face shield and mask. Some have not left their homes for months except for these visits. I ask about their safety, health and well-being, and now I also ask if they have enough food, medications and supplies at home.
The pandemic has been isolating, especially for seniors who were unprepared for the Zoom world of 2020. I ask: “How is your family, and is there anything that I can do to help you?”
In rheumatology, we are so fortunate to develop long lasting relationships with our patients. It is such an honor to see and care for them, during good and bad times. Our physician role often leads us to become a trusted friend and dependable ally. As a result, patients are sweet and often ask about our health, well-being and families. So I should not have been surprised when a patient asked, “Who are you voting for?”
“Never talk about politics, religion and money” is a societal recommendation I remember learning as a child to avoid confrontations and discord. Some of these topics are part of routine clinical conversation. We often check to make sure that patients have spiritual and financial resources. Politics, however, is often considered taboo.
The constant media coverage of elections/politics has definitely factored into the added stress and anxiety for my patients, which they self-report during the office visits. As a result, one of my recommendations is to decrease their media exposure to stressful topics.
What do I do when they specifically ask for my opinion and choice?
My dilemma: Do I share my voting ballot information with my patient? One possible outcome could be spending time discussing the hot-button topics circulating throughout the country rather than their health.
Such a discussion could uncover the fact that our views are extremely different and change our future interactions. Perhaps we agree, and our bond is stronger than ever.