How to Respect Patient’s Religious Beliefs During Treatment

By Adventist University Academic Resource

In times of illness and injury, many people turn to religion and spirituality for comfort and healing. So it makes sense that these parts of a person’s life should be incorporated into their care. The good news is that there’s growing support in the medical community to address religious and spiritual issues in patient care. In fact, organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Nursing Association have stressed the need for greater understanding of a patient’s belief systems, particularly when dealing with treatment options and end-of-life issues.

The most effective ways for nurses and healthcare workers to deal with religion and spirituality in the hospital in three steps: Communication, Support and Accommodation, and Tolerance.

To address spirituality issues effectively, healthcare practitioners should strive to learn as much as they can about their patients’ religious beliefs. However, these interactions should be conducted respectfully and honor the wishes of the patients. This means physicians should not force patients to share their religious inclinations if they are not willing to do so.

The Benefits of Communication
Addressing patients’ spiritual issues is beneficial on several fronts. For starters, scientific research has shown that 90% of patients are willing to talk about spirituality with their physicians. On the other hand, physicians are human beings, too, meaning they are prone to emotional and spiritual experiences similar to those experienced by patients. For this reason, talking about religion and spirituality can be cathartic for both physicians and patients alike. By initiating this type of communication, physicians are likely to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of diverse religious beliefs and practices. This can help patients open up and be receptive to treatment regimens recommended by their doctors. Opening up communication also enables physicians to avoid treatment options that could be unacceptable to patients on religious grounds. It is also worth noting that spirituality can help patients cope with pain caused by serious injuries or terminal illnesses. More importantly, religious faith can address emotional needs that cannot be resolved adequately using medications.

Initiating Spirituality Communication
To avoid offending the religious beliefs of patients, medical practitioners should initiate communication in accordance with the FICA Spiritual History Tool’s guidelines. The first guideline encompasses faith and belief. Physicians could ask their patients whether spirituality plays a role in their lives and whether they consider themselves religious. Secondly, physicians should try to find out the level of importance patients attach to religion and spirituality in accordance to FICA’s second tenet. In particular, healthcare providers should find out whether religious faith influences healthcare choices. The third FICA tenet is community, which refers to spiritual communities that greatly influence patient’s lifestyles and outlook on life. Such communities could improve treatment outcomes because they offer much needed spiritual and emotional support to patients.

However, such communities should only be incorporated into treatment regimens after patients give their consent. The last FICA tenet is address in care, which refers to the way patients would like physicians and nurses to address their religious beliefs within medical settings. Treatment-focused studies have found that 77% of patients with life-threatening illnesses are open to discussing spiritual/religious aspects with their physicians. In addition, 74% of patients with serious medical conditions would like physicians to ask them about their faith. Of course, physicians should refrain from being judgmental or disparaging their patients’ religious beliefs. What’s more, healthcare providers should be willing to listen to their patients regardless of their spiritual inclinations.

Creating a Conducive Treatment Environment
Besides offering the relevant medical care, doctors and nurses should not impose their personal beliefs on their patients. Instead, they should focus on providing the best care possible. This approach is beneficial because 90% of patients strongly believe that spirituality is as important as physical health. At the same time, 40% of patients harness faith to cope with health challenges, whereas 25% rely heavily on prayer during ill health. Religious faith can also be a source of strength and comfort whenever patients face stressful and challenging health situations. In fact, 67% of patients believe that spirituality could enable medical practitioners to offer realistic hope on treatment outcomes.

Up to 66% of patients believe that religious faith could help physicians dispense better medical advice and treatment recommendations. Finally, 62% of patients believe that medical procedures based on spirituality could enhance patient outcomes substantially. Besides the approaches discussed above, empathy is a key ingredient in enhancing physician-patient interactions. This is in addition to improving patient care. Empathy also makes patients feel accepted, important, worth saving (even in dire medical situations), well understood, and able to voice their concerns. Clinical studies have found that empathy correlates with greater medical care satisfaction and patient outcomes.

Religion is a highly emotive and sensitive subject that could strain doctor-patient relationships if unwisely broached. Due to this, medical personnel should uphold their patient’s spiritual beliefs with the utmost respect. To achieve this goal, physicians should proactively study a wide range of religions and pay special attention to those practiced by their patients and colleagues. Where possible, physicians should attend training programs and seminars that focus on the role of spirituality in healthcare delivery. Another effective approach is consulting professional counselors and advisers with in depth knowledge of spiritual matters. Doing so would help doctors better understand different faith systems. Where health facilities have well-established guidelines on spirituality, medical personnel should strive to follow them.

Modern medical procedures have greatly revolutionized healthcare access and treatment outcomes across the world. However, conventional medical approaches alone cannot effectively address the health challenges facing the general population. This has led physicians to champion for the incorporation of spirituality in treatment procedures with the consent of patients. Although this approach is beneficial to all parties involved, it is particularly challenging to physicians because navigating the religion minefield can be tricky. Luckily, the FICA Spiritual History Tool offers physicians guidelines on how to achieve this goal. These guidelines encourage inquiring about patients’ religious beliefs and finding the most effective way to address spiritual matters. More importantly, physicians should refrain from imposing their personal and religious beliefs on their patients.

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