Physicians' Religious Characteristics and Their Perceptions of the Psychological Impact of Patient Prayer and Beliefs at the End of Life: A National Survey

Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2019 Feb;36(2):116-122. doi: 10.1177/1049909118792871. Epub 2018 Aug 5.


Background:: Physicians who are more religious or spiritual may report more positive perceptions regarding the link between religious beliefs/practices and patients' psychological well-being.

Methods:: We conducted a secondary data analysis of a 2010 national survey of US physicians from various specialties (n = 1156). Respondents answered whether the following patient behaviors had a positive or negative effect on the psychological well-being of patients at the end of life: (1) praying frequently, (2) believing in divine judgment, and (3) expecting a miraculous healing. We also asked respondents how comfortable they are talking with patients about death.

Results:: Eighty-five percent of physicians believed that patients' prayer has a positive psychological impact, 51% thought that patients' belief in divine judgment has a positive psychological impact, and only 17% of physicians thought the same with patients' expectation of a miraculous healing. Opinions varied based on physicians' religious and spiritual characteristics. Furthermore, 52% of US physicians appear to feel very comfortable discussing death with patients, although end-of-life specialists, Hindu physicians, and spiritual physicians were more likely to report feeling very comfortable discussing death (adjusted odds ratio range: 1.82-3.00).

Conclusion:: US physicians hold divided perceptions of the psychological impact of patients' religious beliefs/practices at the end of life, although they more are likely to believe that frequent prayer has a positive psychological impact for patients. Formal training in spiritual care may significantly improve the number of religion/spirituality conversations with patients at the end of life and help doctors understand and engage patients' religious practices and beliefs.

Keywords: end of life; national survey; psychological well-being; religion; spirituality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Faith Healing / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Spirituality
  • Terminal Care / psychology*