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Conversation or non-versation? Physicians’ communication about existential, spiritual and religious needs with chronically ill patients - protocol for a qualitative study

Aida Hougaard Andersen, Elisabeth Assing Hvidt, Niels Christian Hvidt, Zsolt Illés, Gitte Handberg, Kirsten K. Roessler


Background: Facing a severe, chronic disease can be experienced as an existential crisis that may lead to a lower quality of life and even risk of suicide. Existential, spiritual and religious ways of meaning-making are in many cases positively related to health and can be important in times of crises. This project aims to study a gap in the current knowledge with a specific focus on patient-centeredness as an attention to the whole person. How do physicians experience their patients’ existential, spiritual and religious needs in relation to chronic disease? How do they address these needs and are patients satisfied with this communication?

Methods / Design: Two chronic diseases with severe illness in common were chosen: Chronic Pain and Multiple Sclerosis. For each disease, an in-depth study of 12 patients and 4 physicians will precede the comparison of the cases resulting in 24 patient interviews and 8 physician interviews. Further, we will compare the existential, spiritual and religious needs of these 2 patient groups. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis is applied as methodology and semi-structured interviews and observations are used as data generation methods.

Discussion: Investigating and addressing existential, spiritual and religious meaning in life in exchange with patients may enhance quality of care and improve efficacy of and satisfaction with treatment. The results of this project will hopefully provide a substantial contribution to the knowledge about existential, spiritual and religious needs of patients living with a chronic disease. The knowledge may be used in clinical practice as well as for educational purposes.


Barriers, chronic illness, chronic pain, doctor-patient-communication, existential, existential communication, multiple sclerosis, patient satisfaction, person-centered healthcare, qualitative methods, spiritual and religious needs

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