Recognizing Religious Beliefs in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Given the wide range of religion practices across our national population, it is no wonder that healthcare providers and systems are often challenged by delivering care that meets the religious needs of patients and their families. One way providers and the industry as a whole can overcome this problem and honor healthcare religious freedom is to provide training for staff and develop policies and procedures that encourage culturally competent care that incorporates sensitivity to religious beliefs in healthcare.

Why Religion Matters in Healthcare

According to Cultural Religious Competence in Clinical Practice, “Religion and spirituality are important factors in a majority of the patients seeking care. Unfortunately, health providers may not take religious beliefs into account when they are dealing with difficult medical decisions for patients and their families” (Swihart & Martin, 2020). Here are some reasons shared by Swihart & Martin about how overlooking religious beliefs in healthcare can have an impact on outcomes:

  • Patients often turn to their religious and spiritual beliefs when making medical decisions.
  • Religion and spirituality can impact decisions regarding diet, medicines based on animal products, modesty, and the preferred gender of their health providers.
  • Some religions have strict prayer times that may interfere with medical treatment.

These authors go on to share that “Many patients’ anxieties are reduced when they turn to their faith during healthcare challenges. Because many patients turn to their beliefs when difficult healthcare decisions are made, it is vital for healthcare professionals to recognize and accommodate patient religious and spiritual needs. Health professionals should provide an opportunity for patients to discuss their religious and spiritual beliefs and tailor their evaluation and treatment to meet their specific needs” (Swihart & Martin, 2020).

Here are a few ways that religious adherence may restrict the care a patient may receive:

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Several Old and New Testament scriptures are “used by Jehovah's Witnesses to explain why their religion refuses to accept blood transfusions. ‘This is a religious issue rather than a personal one,’ explains JW.org, the official website for the religion. ‘We avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life.’ Followers are quick to point out that other than accepting blood, Jehovah's Witnesses are told to seek and receive the best medical care available” (Lamotte, 2018).

The Amish – “The Amish will not allow heart transplants and, in some cases, heart surgery because they view the heart as ‘the soul of the body.’ Children who have not been baptized are exempt from that restriction. Though the religion does not forbid its members from seeking medical attention, many Amish are reluctant to do so unless absolutely necessary. They believe that God is the ultimate healer, and they are likely to turn to folk remedies, herbal teas and other more "'natural' antidotes. They do not practice birth control, often lack prenatal care and avoid preventative screenings” (Lamotte, 2018).

Hindus – “Vaishnavism, the major branch of the Hindu faith, considers the killing of animals, especially cows, to be sinful. Therefore, the religion does not condone the use of any drugs, implants, skin grafts or medical dressings that contain parts of pigs or bovines” (Lamotte, 2018).

Muslims – “Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims also do not approve of any drugs, medical dressings or implants that contain porcine ingredients. But they too allow exceptions for emergencies and when no alternative drugs or materials are available” (Lamotte, 2018).

The examples above demonstrate just how important an understanding of individual spiritual belief can be to successful healthcare outcomes. We live in a world where healthcare religious freedom must be taken into account when care is being provided. When providers take the time to understand the faith of a patient, as well as how religion may affect the ability to receive care, everyone benefits.


Lamotte, S., “'Inoculate yourself with the word of God': How religion can limit medical treatment,” CNN Health, February 7, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/07/health/religion-medical-treatment/index.html.
Swihart, D., and Martin, R., Cultural Religious Competence In Clinical Practice, February 17, 2020, Retrieved at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493216/.


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