Belief in Doctors?

by John Hayward

Dr Richard Scott is appealling against a formal warning from the General Medical Council for suggesting a patient could find solace in Jesus, following a complaint made by the patient’s mother.

The GMC’s guidance is clear that doctors should not normally discuss their personal beliefs with patients ‘unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient’s care’. However, Dr Scott apparently insists the patient’s problem was not medical. Moreover, the official NHS Choices website for the Bethesda Medical Centre where Dr Scott practises in Margate clearly states:

wikipedia luke_fildes the doctor

‘The 6 Partners are all practising Christians from a variety of Churches and their faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients and employees. The Partners feel that the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit. If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care. Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the Practice Manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.’

The truth is, scientific research is increasingly showing that we cannot draw a clear separation between belief and medicine. For instance, the latest research from a brain imaging study at Oxford University has shown poor expectations of treatment can override all the effect of a potent pain-relieving drug, while positive expectations of treatment can double the natural physiological or biochemical effect of a drug. These findings on the placebo effect – and its opposite, the nocebo effect – suggest that doctors need to consider dealing with patients’ beliefs about the effectiveness of any treatment before prescribing what they otherwise determine might be the best pharmaceutical treatment for that patient.

As Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship has put it, ‘All good doctors try to treat their patients as whole persons, not just biochemical machines. That does sometimes include spiritual matters, dealing with questions of meaning and purpose.’

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Category: Blogs

May, 2011

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