In spite of a substantial body of empirical data, professional disagreement persists regarding whether and how religion and spirituality (hereinafter “R/S” and treated as a single concept) influences health. This study examines the association between physicians' religious characteristics and their observations and interpretations of the influence of R/S on health.
A cross-sectional survey was mailed to a stratified, random sample of 2000 practicing US physicians from all specialties. Physicians were asked to estimate how often patients mention R/S issues, how much R/S influences health, and in what ways the influence is manifested.
The response rate was 63%. Most physicians (56%) believed that R/S had much or very much influence on health, but few (6%) believed that R/S often changed “hard” medical outcomes. Rather, most physicians believed that R/S (1) often helps patients to cope (76%), (2) gives patients a positive state of mind (75%), and (3) provides emotional and practical support via the religious community (55%). Compared with those with low religiosity, physicians with high religiosity are substantially more likely to (1) report that patients often mention R/S issues (36% vs 11%)(P<.001); (2) believe that R/S strongly influences health (82% vs 16%) (P<.001); and (3) interpret the influence of R/S in positive rather than negative ways.
Patients are likely to encounter quite different opinions about the relationship between their R/S and their health, depending on the religious characteristics of their physicians.