The issue of patient requests for religious concordance was discussed in a commentary published in the AMA Journal of Ethics.
The investigators recommended a case-by-case approach to handle situations when patients request religious concordance or to be transferred to a physician with similar religious beliefs. The main points to consider when assessing a desire for religious concordance is if the patient will be treated fairly, if the physician can reasonably accommodate the request, and what aspects of the physician’s personal life are pertinent to their professional life.
When assessing the fairness of a patient’s request for religious concordance, the likelihood of the patient joining in the physician-patient relationship has to be taken into consideration. Will the patient participate or resist the physician, and will their attitude lead to improved or diminished health care outcomes?
Shared decision making is a process where the medical information is communicated from the physician to the patients, and values and preferences are communicated from the patient to the physician. This process works best when there is cooperation between both parties and an understanding of the patient’s preferences and interests. The physician’s ability to detect changes or concerns in a patient’s health might be more acutely in tune if they share similar components of lifestyle factors and the physician has some insight into traditions, practices, and culture.
It is not possible for a physician to completely separate their personal life from their professional life; therefore, it is important to remember the complex balance of identity during the decision-making process. Of note, discerning the difference between religious concordance and discrimination should be handled with moral discernment.
The investigators concluded that “[a] diverse community of physicians makes such accommodations possible; physicians with specific traditions of thought and practice are sometimes best situated to bring to bear what medicine offers and to do so in ways that fit the needs of patients with similar traditions of thought and practice.”
Blythe JA, Curlin FA. How should physicians respond to patient requests for religious concordance? AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(6):E485-492.