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General Health Channel
Reported December 22, 2003

Spiritual Behavior of Physicians

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Doctors are not likely to ask patients about their spiritual needs or involve themselves with religious issues on the job, find researchers who surveyed physicians in North Carolina, Vermont and Florida.

The increasingly holistic approach to health care seen over the past few decades in America has led to much debate in medical circles about the role of the physician in addressing the spiritual and religious needs of patients. Evidence suggests many patients would like their doctors to get more involved, even to the point of joining them in prayer. Studies show many doctors believe they should be aware of spiritual issues, but most surveys on the issue have only involved family physicians.

This study, published in this month’s Archives of Internal Medicine, questioned both family physicians and internists about their spiritual behaviors with patients. Around 475 doctors responded to the survey.

About 85 percent of the physicians reported believing they should be aware of their patients’ spirituality, but most said they would not actually bring it up with a patient unless the patient was near death. Less than a third of the respondents said they would actually pray with a patient, even if that patient were dying. However, if directly asked to participate in prayer with a patient, about three quarters said they would take part. Family practice doctors were more likely to take a spiritual history of their patients than internists.

The authors write, “In our study, despite a general reluctance to be involved in patients’ religious and spiritual life, physicians appeared to be willing to fulfill patient requests regarding their religious and spiritual needs. With specific patient request, most physicians agreed to silent prayer for or prayer with patients in all clinical settings.”

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: /newsalert/.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, 2003;163:2751-2756

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