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Religion rarely part of ICU conversation

Posted on 09/05/2015

Reuters Health – In less than 20 percent of family meetings in the intensive care unit do doctors and other health care providers discuss religion or spirituality a new study finds.

For many patients and families, religion and spirituality are important near the end of life, and understanding these beliefs may be “important to delivering care that is respectful of the patient as an individual,” said senior author Dr. Douglas B. White of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in email to Reuters Health.

Researchers used audio recordings to analyze 249 meetings between health care professionals and an ICU patient’s surrogate decision maker at six medical centers between 2009 and 2012.

Three-quarters of the decision makers rated religion or spirituality as fairly or very important in their lives.

Religion or spirituality came up in 40 of the 249 conversations. More than half of the time, the surrogate decision maker, rather than the doctor, brought up the subject, the authors reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Surrogates most often mentioned their religious beliefs, practices or community, or that the doctor is a healing instrument of god, or that the end of life will be a new beginning for the patient.

Doctors frequently redirected these conversations to medical considerations, referred surrogates to other hospital providers or expressed empathy, but very rarely asked further questions about the patient’s religion or opened up about their own religious beliefs.

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