A recent research project focused on a very delicate matter. It revealed that doctors avoid discussing religion in the ICU, which some might find as an important aspect of the healing process as a whole.
The study focused on terminal patients, for whom religious matters become an inevitable topic of reflection and discussion, but also on surrogates, who are the people responsible of making decisions when patients are no longer able to make them on their own.
The team of researchers recorded 249 sessions between doctors and surrogates and listened closely to the conversation, so as to identify just how often the topic of religion came up and just how it was discussed by the physician and the surrogate alike.
The results were quite staggering. It seems that religion was only included in 20% of the conversations regarding the goals of care. Furthermore, as many as 65% of these conversations about religion and spirituality were started by the surrogates and not by the doctors, who brought up this topic as little as in 5.6% of the cases.
Considering that 77.6% of the surrogates expressed their interest for religion and other aspects of spirituality, it is understandable that they would bring it up so much in the conversations that they had with doctors, whom they frequently view as symbolic and essential figures in relation to their faith.
Doctors however are not inclined to discuss these aspects with neither patients, nor surrogates. The study revealed that they tend to simply change the subject when faced with such topics of discussion.
The researchers who have conducted this recent study pointed out that discussing these topics as well might have beneficial aspects for the patient, as it would ensure a closer relationship with the doctors in the hands of whom they literally place their lives in.
“Our findings suggest that religious considerations(…) are often absent from end-of-life conversations. This may signal a need for changes in health care delivery in ICUs.” concludes the study.
On the other hand, a detrimental aspect of discussing religious aspects would be for the patient or the surrogate to get the impression that his or her beliefs are not shared by the physicians to the extent that they would expect them to be, because this could drastically affect the level of confidence that patients have in their doctors, which is crucial to the outcome of the treatment.
This is most likely one of the most important reasons why so many doctors have chosen to avoid discussing religious or spiritual aspects in the ICU.
It remains to be seen how this recent study is going to affect the standard of care that health care workers need to provide, but the process of introducing protocols regarding the discussion of religious aspects would clearly be an extremely intricate matter.
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