Background: Knowledge of physician attitudes and preferences regarding religion and spirituality in the medical encounter is limited by the nonspecific questions asked in previous studies and by the omission of specialties other than family practice. This study was designed to determine the willingness of internists and family physicians to be involved with varying degrees of spiritual behaviors in varied clinical settings.
Methods: The study was a multicenter, cross-sectional, nonrandomized design recruiting physicians from 6 teaching hospitals with sites in North Carolina, Vermont, and Florida. A self-administered survey was used to explore physicians' willingness to address religion and spirituality in the medical encounter. Data were gathered on the physicians' religiosity and spirituality and sociodemographic characteristics.
Results: Four hundred seventy-six physicians responded, for a response rate of 62.0%. While 84.5% of physicians thought they should be aware of patients' spirituality, most would not ask about spiritual issues unless a patient were dying. Fewer than one third of physicians would pray with patients even if they were dying. This number increased to 77.1% if a patient requested physician prayer. Family practitioners were more likely to take a spiritual history than general internists.
Conclusions: Most primary care physicians surveyed would not initiate any involvement with patients' spirituality in the medical encounter except for the clinical setting of dying. If a patient requests involvement, however, most physicians express a willingness to comply, even if the request involves prayer.