About 50 percent of adults in one survey said they’d like doctors to pray with them in near-death situations.
When my daughter was about to be rushed to surgery for an emergency Caesarian-section a few years ago, our pastor was out of town. Thinking we really needed prayers about then, I lamented that Pastor was on vacation and asked my daughter who she wanted me to call.
About then, the pediatrician on call piped up, “Would you like for me to pray with you?” Though his name indicated perhaps he was of a different religious persuasion than we were, we figured we ought not be too picky about then. We’d take prayers any way we could get them, and we hoped our God heard them, no matter who was delivering them.
As we’d hoped, the doctor’s prayers seemed heartfelt and had the calming effect we’d hoped. Someone “up there” must have heard them, as today that baby who barged into this world two months early is a strapping, healthy eighteen-year-old recent high school graduate.
A recent AmMedNews.com article looked at the issue of doctors praying with patients. When nearly 500 adults were surveyed in 2003 about two-thirds of them thought doctors should know about their spiritual beliefs. One in five said they’d like to pray with a doctor during a routine office visit, and about 30 percent said they’d like to do so when they’re in the hospital. If they were near death, half said they would like to pray with their doctors.
In 2007, an Archives of Internal Medicine survey reported that three out of four doctors say their patents mention spiritual issues “sometimes or often.”
Some doctors say they prefer the patients or family members initiate the prayer, though—such as G. Richard Holt, MD, MPH, an otolaryngologist who recently retired. In a presentation at a conference, he spoke of concerns about doctor-initiated prayer being an ethical breach, but says, “Being there silently with the patient during the prayer is, for the most part, a benign demonstration of validating the patient’s faith as being important to them.”
“It does no harm to the doctor or the patient and usually does good,” Holt says. “To me, once you start taking an active part in it, I’m concerned that it becomes different.”
The AmMedNews article says that ethical guidelines from major physician organizations do not address how physicians ought to handle patient requests. And, though the Joint Commission makes hospitals assess “what spiritual beliefs are important to patients or might affect their care,” it doesn’t cover physician-patient prayer either.
Results of a May 2006 Medical Care study show that a little more than half of the 1,200 physicians it surveyed say they will pray with patients when asked.
Nancy Berlinger, PhD, a research scholar at The Hastings Center, has studied the role of chaplains in patient care and says physicians should “be aware of patients’ religious beliefs and work with pastoral-care providers to help address spiritual concerns.”
She also says physicians “should expect [religious] requests and have a plan for handling them that is consistent with their organization’s policies.”
Some practices, such as Mission Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., offer a “Christ-centered environment.” Physicians there ask patients about their religious or spiritual beliefs when they take their history. Physicians ask, too, what role patients believe faith should play in care, and if patients want to pray with doctors or with volunteer lay ministers.
How about your health care organization? Do your physicians pray with patients? As a marketer or communicator, how do you share this information with patients or prospective patients?