Addressing spiritual concerns of patients: family physicians' attitudes and practices

J Fam Pract. 1999 Feb;48(2):105-9.


Background: Our goals were to assess family physicians' spiritual well-being, identify their perceived barriers to discussing spiritual issues with patients, and determine how often they have these discussions.

Methods: We mailed a questionnaire to 231 Missouri family physicians (80 residents, 43 faculty, and 108 community physicians). The questionnaire included the Ellison Spiritual Well-being Scale (ESWS), as well as questions about physicians' attitudes toward spirituality and the barriers to and frequency of discussions of spiritual issues with patients.

Results: The response rate was 74%. The mean ESWS score indicated that the physician respondents had a high level of spiritual well-being. Nearly all respondents (96%) considered spiritual well-being an important health component, 86% supported referral of hospitalized patients with spiritual questions to chaplains, and 58% believed physicians should address patients' spiritual concerns. Fear of dying was the spiritual issue most commonly discussed, and less than 20% of physicians reported discussing other spiritual topics in more than 10% of patient encounters. Barriers to addressing spiritual issues included lack of time (71%), inadequate training for taking spiritual histories (59%), and difficulty identifying patients who want to discuss spiritual issues (56%).

Conclusions: Family physicians in this survey had high spiritual well-being scores. Most believed spiritual well-being is an important factor in health. Despite this belief, however, most reported infrequent discussions of spiritual issues with patients and infrequent referrals of hospitalized patients to chaplains. Lack of time and training were key barriers to spiritual assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Holistic Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Missouri
  • Pastoral Care
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires