Taking Your Spiritual Pulse (cont.)

In this time-pressed era of managed-care medicine, do doctors really have time to get into patients' spiritual beliefs? Puchalski and others say they're merely urging physicians to broach the subject -- not conduct an in-depth interview. Her interview format can take as little as two minutes, she says.

Ask But Don't Push

Despite patients' hunger for such discussions, Pulchalski and Sulmasy at New York University recognize that some doctors could potentially take advantage of their position of influence to evangelize about their own beliefs. "That would be absolutely wrong, a serious affront to patients," Sulmasy says.

To avoid misuse of the technique, patients should be allowed a quick exit from the discussion if spirituality is not an issue for them or they feel it is none of the doctor's business, they say.

When the conversation is conducted with care and respect, however, Sulmasy says it can help doctors engender trust and open discussions about end-of-life decisions in the event the patient becomes seriously ill.

In Rhonda Oziel's case, she was glad her doctor had broached the subject of belief at their first meeting. "I don't pray very often," Oziel told her doctor, "but I know there's a spirit looking out for the world." Their talk was enough to open the doors of communication. Several months later, when Oziel's husband died, she felt comfortable turning to her doctor to discuss her loss and what might happen after death. The conversation, though brief, provided just the sort of comfort she craved.

Ann Japenga, a contributing editor at Health magazine, writes frequently about psychology for WebMD. She lives in Palm Desert, Calif.

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:47:12 PM