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Doctor, Will You Pray with Me?

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This question is not new, but it’s taking on a new look. It’s no secret that the public is using prayer for health purposes and that prayer has been reported as the most used integrative medicine. However, this is not so much about whether prayer should be used, but how. What can the patient expect from his physician if he or she – the patient – desires the integrative medicine of prayer?

Kevin B. O’Reilly, author of “When a Patient Visit Includes a Request for Prayer,” reported in the January 2003 Journal of General Internal Medicine that one in five patients was found to like the idea of praying with the doctor during a routine office visit, while nearly 30% wanted to do so during a hospital stay, and half of the patients would want to pray with the doctor in a near-death scenario.

These results show that many patients considering prayer a significant part of their health care. But what about the doctors’ reactions, and how do they deal with the patient’s prayer issues?

The April 9, 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine noted that about 75% of the physicians surveyed said patients sometimes or often mention spiritual issues such as God, prayer, meditation, or the Bible. Although doctors are encountering these topics on a regular basis, they are giving a very low-key response to them. In a May 2006 Medical Care study, based on a nationwide survey, 17% of physicians never pray with patients, while 53% do so only when patients ask.

With prayer being more widely accepted within integrative medicine, doctors may encounter more requests to incorporate prayer in health care – as integrative medicine is more fully embraced.

The Rand Corporation is hosting an upcoming event titled “Integrative Health Care and Medicine,” in which they promote the incorporation of integrative medicine. I found their presentation of the event very interesting: “Integrative medicine combines the strengths of conventional medicine with effective and safe approaches in complementary and alternative medicine. In the past decade, the number of hospitals offering complementary therapies has more than doubled to over 20%, and, among Americans, 38% use integrative practices in their daily lives.”

As doctors and health care providers grapple with what role they should play in combining Western medicine with spirituality and prayer, the literature shows that the question is not should they – but how should they? The path through this array of treatments in the quest to attain quality health care is not yet clear, but it will need to be built on a consideration of doctor-patient ethics, patient demand, and an understanding of spirituality.

As Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland: “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

‘Which road do I take?’ She asked.
His response was, ‘Where do you want to go?’
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’”

The American public knows where it wants to go in the arena of health care, and the path at the fork in the road appears to include a reliance on prayer and other integrative therapies.

photo by Irina Patrascu

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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.