April 9, 2007 -- Most U.S. doctors agree that religion and spirituality have a significant effect on a person’s health, according to a new survey on doctor’s spiritual beliefs.
But doctors who themselves are religious or spiritual are more likely to see the impact of religion or spirituality on personal health as positive and believe it strongly influences health.
Researchers say the findings support recommendations that doctors recognize how their own beliefs influence how they provide care.
"Physicians' notions about the relationship between religion and spirituality and patients' health are strongly associated with physicians' own religious characteristics," write researcher Farr Culin, MD, of the University of Chicago, and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Consensus seems to begin and end with the idea that many [if not most] patients draw on prayer and other religious resources to navigate and overcome the spiritual challenges that arise in their experiences of illness," write the researchers. "Controversy remains regarding whether, to what extent and in what ways religion and spirituality helps or harms patients' health."
Doctors’ Spiritual Beliefs Affect Care
In the study, researchers mailed surveys to a random sample of 2,000 U.S. doctors from all specialties. Participants were asked to estimate how often patients raised religious or spiritual issues, how much religion and spirituality affect health, and how the influence of religion and spirituality is manifested.
Among the more than 1,100 doctors who returned the survey, the results showed that 56% believed religion and spirituality had much or very much influence on health.
But only 6% believed religion or spirituality had changed “hard” medical outcomes.
Instead, most doctors believed that religion and spirituality:
- Often helps patients cope with illness (76%)
- Gives patients a positive state of mind (74%)
- Provides emotional and practical support through the religious community (55%)
Compared with those who rated themselves as not very religious, those who were more religious were more likely to:
- Report that patients often mention religious or spiritual issues
- Believe religion and spirituality strongly influences health
- Interpret the influence of religion and spirituality in positive rather than negative ways