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Doctors' Response To Patients' Religious Beliefs Can Vary

Researchers from the University of Chicago reporting in the May issue of the journal Medical Care say that nine out of ten doctors believe that it is alright to discuss religion with their patients.// However, only three out of four doctors encourage patients to speak about their beliefs and only half of them bother to query a patient about their beliefs.

Only one out of ten physicians routinely mentions his or her religious beliefs and experiences to patients. Fewer than one out of three endorses praying with patients. Four out of five say they do so "rarely or never."

But if half of physicians do not inquire about religious belief, the other half do. Ten percent of them do so "always." And if four out of five physicians rarely or never pray with patients, one out of five do, "sometimes or often."

"We found no consensus among physicians about what is customary or appropriate," said study author Farr Curlin, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. "Despite efforts to standardize many aspects of the doctor-patient relationship," he said, "patients are likely to encounter very different approaches." These differences in attitude and behavior closely reflect physicians' personal religious and spiritual characteristics, the study found. "The close ties between belief and behavior," Curlin said, "suggests that physicians are unlikely to reach agreement any time soon about what is suitable."

The researchers surveyed 2,000 practicing U.S. physicians from all specialties about their own attitudes and how they affected the clinical encounter. They asked physicians about their religious traditions, the extent to which they try to live out the teachings of those traditions, and about barriers that might hinder discussion of religious or spiritual topics with patients. .

Of the 1,144 responding physicians, 18 percent described themselves as being neither religious nor spiritual, and 17 percent iden
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