I was pleased to be interviewed by AMA NEWS on the subject of doctors praying with patients. You can read the entire interview here.However, if time’s short, here’s the section of the interview about what we’re doing at Mission Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs:
Making spirituality part of care
Walter Larimore, MD, takes a more hands-on approach to integrating spirituality into his Colorado Springs, Colo., family practice. He is medical director of the charitable Mission Medical Clinic, which says it offers a “Christ-centered environment.” The clinic treats about 800 patients with chronic conditions who are uninsured and do not qualify for Medicaid.
Physicians at the clinic ask patients about their religious or spiritual beliefs as part of a routine history. They also ask patients what role they believe faith should play in care, and whether they would like to pray with doctors or volunteer lay ministers.
If patients are interested in prayer, Dr. Larimore notes it with a “P” in their charts. Care is not in any way contingent on openness to prayer or holding religious beliefs, he said.
Research has found that patients with strong religious beliefs and ties to a faith community have superior health outcomes, although the reason for that association is unclear. Studies of intercessory prayer — when a third party prays on behalf of the patient — have found little to no effect on outcomes and are widely regarded as lacking in methodological rigor.
Experts interviewed for this article were not aware of studies investigating the efficacy of physician-patient prayer. Only 6% of physicians believe religion and spirituality often help to prevent negative clinical outcomes such as heart attacks, infections or death, the Archives study said.
For Dr. Larimore, it is the deeper connections with patients facilitated by prayer that make an impression. In early June, a patient undergoing a family trauma came in with elevated blood pressure. After a drink of water, a visit with a nurse and a prayer, the woman’s diastolic blood pressure dropped about 20 points.
“Was there a cause and effect? I don’t know,” Dr. Larimore said. “But I could tell by the tears in her eyes that the experience touched her.”