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Talking Religion With Your Doctor

Doctors' Views Vary on Discussing Faith With Patients
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May 1, 2006 -- Most doctors think it is appropriate for them to discuss religious or spiritual issues with patients who start those conversations, a new study shows.

The majority of doctors don't bring those topics up with their patients, but those with strong religious or spiritual beliefs are more likely to do so, the study also notes.

The study is based on a survey of 1,144 U.S. doctors younger than 65. The doctors work in various specialties including internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery.

The University of Chicago's Farr Curlin, MD, and colleagues published the results in the journal Medical Care.

Survey's Results

Most doctors in the survey were Protestant, followed by Catholics and Jews. Only about 13% were from other religions. About 11% of the doctors called themselves atheists, agnostics, or those with no religious affiliation.

Participants also rated how strongly their religious or spiritual beliefs affect their lives.

The study's findings include:

  • 91% of doctors say it's "always" or "usually" appropriate to discuss religious/spiritual issues if their patient brings those issues up.
  • 66% say they "never" or "rarely" inquire about patients' religious or spiritual issues.
  • 81% say they "never" or "rarely" pray with their patients.
  • 59% say they "never" or "rarely" share their own religious ideas and experiences with their patients.

Doctors' Beliefs Important?

Doctors who noted that religion and spirituality played a big role in their lives were more likely to say they have ever prayed with their patients or asked about a patient's religion or spirituality. That pattern was strongest among Protestant participants, the study shows.

"Contemporary medicine is often applied in areas about which different religious (or secular) traditions provide rival explanations and resources for healing," write Curlin and colleagues.

The researchers add that "the time may be ripe for a deeper and more fundamental examination of the influence of religion in the lives of doctors, the lives of patients, and in the complex culture of health care.""

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