Healthcare Provider Religious Affiliation a Nonfactor for Most Patients

January 3, 2020

Healthcare execs should consider the implications of religious restrictions to care on patients and community members, according to a new study.

Although most patients believe that their healthcare choices should take precedence over a healthcare facility’s religious affiliation, a majority do not take religious affiliation into consideration when choosing where to receive care, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

Maryam Guiahi, MD, MSc, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Medicine, and colleagues, wanted to understand patient views on religious institutional care.

The researchers created a national survey that was administered to 1,446 U.S. adults by NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) in November 2017. The survey participants were asked about the most important factors in selecting healthcare facilities. According to the study, among the most common responses were: the patient’s health insurance was accepted (72.5%), the clinicians’ reputation (60.2%), and the facility’s reputation (59.5%). Just 6.4% said they considered the religious affiliation of the healthcare institution.

When asked specifically whether they preferred a religious institution, 71.3% of participants said they didn’t care, 13.4% said they preferred one with a religious affiliation, and 15.3% said they preferred one with no affiliation.

Yet when we asked if their health choices should take priority over an institution’s religious affiliation the vast majority agreed (71%), and this was more common among female respondents. 

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“As Catholic healthcare systems continue to grow and expand with mergers and acquisitions, patients and other relevant stakeholders need to consider how such expansions will increasingly impact them and their community members,” says Guiahi. “Women are disproportionately impacted as they face restrictions to common reproductive services like contraception, sterilization, abortion, and infertility care in Catholic settings. There are also emerging conflicts in care with respect to transgender and end of life care options. 

“Healthcare executives should consider the implications of religious restrictions to care on patients and community members. Those engaging in religious health systems should consider efforts at transparency to avoid conflicts in care,” she says.

The composition of the U.S health care system is shifting; between 2001 to 2016 the number of Catholic-owned or affiliated health facilities grew by 22% in contrast to the overall number of acute care hospitals that decreased by 6% and the number of other nonprofit religious hospitals that decreased by 38%, according to the study.

“This is relevant as Catholic healthcare systems enforce religious directives that restrict many aspects of reproductive care and certain aspects of end-of-life care,” Guiahi says. “Yet little is known about the extent to which U.S. patients consider religious affiliation when selecting a healthcare facility.”