When Patients Choose Faith Over Medicine

Physician Perspectives on Religiously Related Conflict in the Medical Encounter

How physicians interpret and respond to medical conflicts that involve religion was the focus of the current investigation. Individual, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 physicians across a number of religious affiliations and the sites and areas of clinical practice. A textual analysis was applied to the interview transcripts.

Key Findings:

  • Religious beliefs often conflicted with medical treatments that were controversial in nature. At these times, physicians found it more difficult to work with patients to come to a mutually satisfying resolution.
  • The most frequent area of conflict was when patients have no religious based objection to medical treatment yet continued to “choose faith over medicine.” On these occasions physicians would: work with patients to view their religious beliefs as complements to medical treatment, attempt to get the patient to see that medical treatment would be supported by their religion, or ask others in the patients' religious community for more insight on their religious beliefs.
  • Physicians continuously engage in a process of weighing the need to be open to patients' beliefs and wanting the patient to follow recommended medical treatments. Ongoing dialogue that is truthful and treats patients with respect helps in this process.