Limits and responsibilities of physicians addressing spiritual suffering in terminally ill patients.
CONTEXT: Many patients experience spiritual suffering that complicates their physical suffering at the end of life. It remains unclear what physicians' perceived responsibilities are for responding to patients' spiritual suffering. OBJECTIVES: To investigate U.S. physician opinions about the impact patients' unresolved spiritual struggles have on their physical pain, physicians' responsibilities for treating patients' spiritual suffering compared with patients' physical pain, and the number of patients in the past 12 months whose suffering the physician was unable to relieve to an acceptable point. METHODS: The study was based on a mailed survey to 2016 practicing U.S. physicians from clinical specialties that care for significant numbers of dying patients. RESULTS: Of 1878 eligible physicians, 1156 (62%) responded. Most physicians agreed that patients with unresolved spiritual struggles tend to have worse physical pain (81%) and that physicians should seek to relieve patients' spiritual suffering just as much as patients' physical pain (88%). Compared with physicians who strongly disagreed that physicians should seek to relieve patients' spiritual suffering just as much as patients' physical pain, those who strongly agreed were less likely to report being unable to relieve patients' suffering to a point the physician found acceptable (27% vs. 54% reported three or more such patients in the previous 12 months, adjusted odds ratio [95% CI] = 0.3 [0.1, 0.8]). CONCLUSION: Most physicians believe that spiritual suffering tends to intensify physical pain and that physicians should seek to relieve such suffering. Physicians who believe they should address spiritual suffering just as much as physical pain report more success in relieving patient's suffering.
Smyre, CL; Yoon, JD; Rasinski, KA; Curlin, FA
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