, Volume 25, Issue 7, pp 725-730
Date: 06 Apr 2010

Religious Hospitals and Primary Care Physicians: Conflicts over Policies for Patient Care

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ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND

Religiously affiliated hospitals provide nearly 20% of US beds, and many prohibit certain end-of-life and reproductive health treatments. Little is known about physician experiences in religious institutions.

OBJECTIVE

Assess primary care physicians’ experiences and beliefs regarding conflict with religious hospital policies for patient care.

DESIGN

Cross-sectional survey.

PARTICIPANTS

General internists, family physicians, and general practitioners from the AMA Masterfile.

MAIN MEASURES

In a questionnaire mailed in 2007, we asked physicians whether they had worked in a religiously affiliated hospital or practice, whether they had experienced conflict with the institution over religiously based patient care policies and how they believed physicians should respond to such conflicts. We used chi-square and multivariate logistic regression to examine associations between physicians’ demographic and religious characteristics and their responses.

KEY RESULTS

Of 879 eligible physicians, 446 (51%) responded. In analyses adjusting for survey design, 43% had worked in a religiously affiliated institution. Among these, 19% had experienced conflict over religiously based policies. Most physicians (86%) believed when clinical judgment conflicts with religious hospital policy, physicians should refer patients to another institution. Compared with physicians ages 26–29 years, older physicians were less likely to have experienced conflict with religiously based policies [odds ratio (95% confidence interval) compared with 30–34 years: 0.02 (0.00–0.11); 35–46 years: 0.07 (0.01–0.72); 47–60 years: 0.02 (0.00–0.10)]. Compared with those who never attend religious services, those who do attend were less likely to have experienced conflict [attend once a month or less: odds ratio 0.06 (0.01–0.29); attend twice a month or more: 0.22 (0.05–0.98)]. Respondents with no religious affiliation were more likely than others to believe doctors should disregard religiously based policies that conflict with clinical judgment (13% vs. 3%; p = 0.005).

Conclusions

Hospitals and policy-makers may need to balance the competing claims of physician autonomy and religiously based institutional policies.

This study was presented at the annual meeting of the North American Primary Care Research Group, November 18, 2008.
Support: (1) The Greenwall Foundation, New York, NY; (2) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (1 K23 AT002749); (3) Pritzker School of Medicine Summer Research Program