When religion and medicine intersect it can create difficulties for physicians. A new study finds that not only do some doctors clash with the religious hospitals at which they work, but those disagreements could affect patient treatment.
Researchers surveyed 446 U.S. doctors (family physicians, general internists and general practitioners), asking them via questionnaire if they had ever worked in a religious hospital; if they had ever had a conflict with religion-based patient care policies; and what should a physician do if a patient needed an intervention the hospital barred due to its religious practices. For the last question the doctors were given four scenarios: provide the intervention openly, even if that risks the doctor's job or hospital privileges; provide the intervention discreetly to avoid getting fired or losing privileges; encourage the patient to get the intervention at another hospital; or recommend another treatment approved by the religious hospital.
Among the participants, 43% had worked in a religiously affiliated hospital, and 19% had some conflict about religion-based policies. Most physicians -- 86% -- said that when conflicts arise about those policies, physicians should encourage patients to get the needed intervention at a hospital where it's not prohibited. Only 10% thought recommending another hospital-approved treatment was a good idea, and 4% supported giving the intervention, either openly or discreetly, against hospital policy.
"Primary care physicians routinely see patients facing reproductive health or end-of-life decisions that may be restricted in religious healthcare institutions, so we were not surprised to learn that nearly 1 in 5 of the physicians who have worked in a religious setting have faced a conflict with their hospital," lead author Dr. Debra Stulberg, instructor of family medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, said in a news release.
The study was published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
A study last year looked at another aspect of religion and medicine -- how doctors handle prayer requests by patients and families in clinical settings.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Kathy Willens / Associated Press