Understandably, one of the primary concerns of hospital patients is the quality of healthcare services they are receiving. With religious hospitals, however, there are added questions one must ask, such as: are all of my options being honestly and openly discussed? Will I have access to healthcare services I need if these services directly conflict with the doctrine of the religion affiliated with the hospital? Unfortunately for patients, religious hospitals may obscure and omit healthcare services that compromise their doctrines, causing needless harm and expense to patients while suppressing the use of modern medical technology. The stance of religious institutions toward specific medical practices (such as abortion) is often very clear even when the doctrine or scripture of the religious hospital’s governing religion is not. Physicians may be explicitly forbidden from performing certain operations or medical procedures.
Patients should always prompt their doctors regarding these possible reservations. Ask directly if all options are available, including procedures that may conflict with any doctrines that may be influencing medical procedures or standard operations within the hospital. Even at a secular hospital, it is sound practice to prompt physicians if they have any personal reservations regarding certain kinds of treatment.
From an administrative rather than a treatment perspective, religious hospitals and secular hospitals are merging in order to remain competitive. Smaller community hospitals may find it much more difficult to provide certain medical services (or provide them at all) when faced with competition from larger hospitals, which, along with their health insurance providers, have more leverage in determining the market price for baseline medical services. Many healthcare providers may also worry than their personal beliefs will come into conflict with new standards and practices if the hospital becomes more secular post-merger. The staff of both secular hospitals and religious hospitals is already similar, given that the number of nuns who formerly served in religious hospitals (often in leadership roles) has declined sharply in recent years. As countries become more or less religious the molding of their social services follows to become more in line with the preferences of the general public.
If a merger does take place, however, officials on both sides of the religious line need to be clear about what will change, especially when it comes to a hospital’s standard operating procedures. There exists an enormous risk for liability or malpractice issues should hospital staff fail to be on the same page with regard to how a patient should be treated versus how they can be treated within the bounds of a particular religious doctrine. If physicians can’t agree, patients at the very least suffer inefficiency, and at the worst: malpractice.