"Religious hospitals represent nearly 20 percent of our health care system," study author Dr. Debra Stulberg of the University of Chicago said in a statement. "This study is the first to systematically ask physicians whether religious hospital policies conflict with their judgment. We found that for a significant number of physicians, they do."
Ninety-six percent of primary care physicians -- a representative sample of U.S. family physicians, general internists and general practitioners in 2007 -- say physicians should adhere to hospital policy, Stulberg said.
Eighty-five percent of physicians thought a doctor facing conflict with religious policies should refer the patient to another hospital, while 10 percent said a doctor should recommend an alternate treatment not prohibited by the religious hospital.
"Primary care physicians routinely see patients facing reproductive health or end-of-life decisions that may be restricted in religious healthcare institutions, so we were not surprised to learn that nearly one in five have worked in a religious setting had a conflict with their hospital," Stulberg said.
"We found that the physicians who work in religious hospitals and practices are a diverse group, from a wide range of religious and personal backgrounds, so hospitals sponsored by a specific religious denomination have providers who may not share their beliefs."
The findings are published online ahead of print in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.