Many doctors comfortable talking religion with patients
■ Protestant physicians were more likely to talk about religious issues and pray with patients than were doctors of other faiths, a study shows.
Most physicians say it is OK to talk about religious issues if a patient brings up them up. But doctors are nearly split about when it is appropriate to ask a patient about such beliefs.
A national survey of 1,144 physicians found that 91% of doctors believe it is appropriate to discuss religion/spirituality issues when a patient brings them up. The survey, which appears in the May issue of the journal Medical Care, found that 55% of doctors said it is usually or always appropriate to ask about a patient's religion. The remaining 45% considered it inappropriate to be the one to broach the topic.
Few physicians said they often or always share their own religious ideas and experiences. Some doctors reported praying with patients on occasion.
"The more religious doctors were much more likely to say this is an appropriate part of medicine and they engage in it," said lead study author Farr Curlin, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. "Doctors who are more secular or less religious are less likely to say it's important."
Protestant physicians were most likely to discuss religious issues and pray with patients. Jewish and Catholic doctors were less likely than Protestants to talk about religious issues and pray, according to the study.
When asked to identify barriers that discouraged them from discussing faith issues with patients, 48% of doctors said they had insufficient time, and 40% cited concerns about offending patients.
Dr. Curlin said differences in physicians' religious characteristics make it difficult to find a consensus on how and if doctors should address a patient's religious concerns. The study noted that many medical schools have instituted courses on faith and medicine, and some organizations, such as the American Assn. of Medical Colleges, have developed guidelines for such courses.
The findings add to previous research, also led by Dr. Curlin, which found that 76% of doctors believed in God and 59% thought there was an afterlife. Physicians were more likely to attend religious services than the general population, according to that study in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.