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Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2019 Feb;36(2):116-122. doi: 10.1177/1049909118792871. Epub 2018 Aug 5.

Physicians' Religious Characteristics and Their Perceptions of the Psychological Impact of Patient Prayer and Beliefs at the End of Life: A National Survey.

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1 Pritzker School of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
2 Department of Health Services Research and Administration, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE, USA.
3 Department of Medicine, Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA.
4 Department of Sociology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
5 MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.



Physicians who are more religious or spiritual may report more positive perceptions regarding the link between religious beliefs/practices and patients' psychological well-being.


We conducted a secondary data analysis of a 2010 national survey of US physicians from various specialties (n = 1156). Respondents answered whether the following patient behaviors had a positive or negative effect on the psychological well-being of patients at the end of life: (1) praying frequently, (2) believing in divine judgment, and (3) expecting a miraculous healing. We also asked respondents how comfortable they are talking with patients about death.


Eighty-five percent of physicians believed that patients' prayer has a positive psychological impact, 51% thought that patients' belief in divine judgment has a positive psychological impact, and only 17% of physicians thought the same with patients' expectation of a miraculous healing. Opinions varied based on physicians' religious and spiritual characteristics. Furthermore, 52% of US physicians appear to feel very comfortable discussing death with patients, although end-of-life specialists, Hindu physicians, and spiritual physicians were more likely to report feeling very comfortable discussing death (adjusted odds ratio range: 1.82-3.00).


US physicians hold divided perceptions of the psychological impact of patients' religious beliefs/practices at the end of life, although they more are likely to believe that frequent prayer has a positive psychological impact for patients. Formal training in spiritual care may significantly improve the number of religion/spirituality conversations with patients at the end of life and help doctors understand and engage patients' religious practices and beliefs.


end of life; national survey; psychological well-being; religion; spirituality

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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