Patients visiting an ophthalmologist report that prayer is important to their well-being and that God plays a positive role in illness, according to a report in the September issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, a medical journal for physicians. 

“Ethical medical practice includes physician behavior, beyond technical competence, that promotes healing and optimizes the patient’s welfare,” the authors write as background information in the article. “The physician who respects the patient as a person with dignity must acknowledge the patient’s value system to establish a relationship that permits conversations that nourish trust for joint therapeutic decision-making. For many patients, religion and spirituality is important to their value system and may represent a unique source of motivation and coping with life events, including the experience of personal illness (illness refers to the response of a patient to a disease).”

Gina Magyar-Russell, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues distributed a brief questionnaire to 124 patients visiting the office of one ophthalmologist. The 14-question survey was completed by the patient and collected without any identifying information, so patients could be assured the answers would not affect their care. 

Of the participants: 

  • 76.6% were Christian, 5.6% Jewish and 3.2% agnostic. 
  • 69.4% reported that prayer was very important to their sense of well-being and 12.9% that it was moderately important. 
  • 45.2% attend religious services at least once per week. 
  • 41.1% agreed that God permits illness but doesn’t cause it, and 54.8% believe God can influence a cure. 
  • 58.1% report that God can directly help physicians treat illness. 
  • 67.7% agree that God helps them be “at peace” with their illness. 
  • Most believe that either illness is a way to make one stronger (32.3%) or that it is a mystery (36.3%) rather than a punishment from God (4%) or a test (22.6%). 

“Christians were more likely to believe that God can influence cure than were Jewish and agnostic participants, and there was a trend toward Christians believing that God gives strength to be ‘at peace’ with illness compared with Jewish and agnostic participants,” the authors write. “Christians also reported more frequent religious and spiritual service attendance, and they rated prayer as more important than individuals reporting Jewish and agnostic belief systems.  

“The data obtained from this questionnaire suggest that patients’ expressions of religion and spirituality should be assessed and acknowledged by their ophthalmologist,” they add. “Obtaining a brief religious and spiritual history, when it becomes a routine part of developing a relationship between the patient and the physician, may become more comfortable for the physician with time, add to an understanding of the patient’s value system, provide the patient with a greater sense of trust in the physician and assist in the healing process, especially when a cure is not possible.” 

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  

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