Patient Views on Religious Institutional Health Care

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Dec 2;2(12):e1917008. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.17008.


Importance: Federal protections allow health facilities to limit options to patients on the basis of religious values. Little is known about whether US adults consider religious affiliation when selecting facilities and whether they agree with such limitations.

Objective: To understand patient views on religious institutional care.

Design, setting, and participants: This is a population-based, cross-sectional survey study of US adults recruited from the probability-based AmeriSpeak Omnibus panel available from NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago. Surveys were administered via internet or telephone during a 3-day fielding period in November 2017. Data analysis was performed from January 2018 to October 2019.

Exposures: Participant characteristics, including religiosity measures.

Main outcomes and measures: Whether patients consider religious affiliation when selecting a health care facility and their views on whether an institution's religious values should take precedence over their health choices. Responses were compared by gender. When gender differences existed, regression models were performed, and thematic content analysis was applied to open-ended responses.

Results: There were 1446 participants (745 [51.5%] male; mean [SD] age, 46 [17] years), for a survey completion rate of 24.5% and weighted cumulative response weight of 7.3%. Most respondents (62.6%) were white, and the most common religion was Protestant (28.2%). When specifically asked, only 6.4% reported that they considered religious affiliation when selecting a health care facility; most participants (71.3%) reported when selecting a health care facility that they did not care whether it is religiously affiliated, 13.4% preferred a religious affiliation, and 15.3% preferred no religious affiliation. There were no gender differences. Most participants (71.4%) believed that their health choices should take priority over an institution's religious affiliation in services offered, and this was more common for women than for men (74.9% vs 68.1%; difference, 6.8%; 95% CI, 5.6%-8.2%; P = .005), who more commonly endorsed concerns for personal choice and autonomy over one's own body.

Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests that most patients value their personal choices, yet do not consider an institution's religious affiliation when choosing their source of health care. Women placed greater emphasis on their autonomy in comparison with an institution's right to invoke religious restrictions to care. Given the growth in ownership of health care facilities by religious entities in the United States and increasing attention to conscientious objections, these findings point to a need for advocacy and legislation that effectively balances protections for religious institutions with protections for patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Religious / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States