(RNS) U.S. doctors need to take religious values into account while providing health care, especially when the patient is a Muslim woman, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
Dr. Aasim Padela, the study’s lead author and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan, assessed the obstacles Muslims face because of Islam’s call for modesty and limited interaction with those of the opposite sex.

“Health care providers need a better understanding of how religious values and ethics can affect the care a patient seeks and then receives,” he said in a statement. “When we accommodate our patients’ religious practices, we provide them with a more holistic quality of care.”

Revealing hospital gowns, doctors of the opposite sex and secluded examination rooms with closed doors call all make Muslim women feel uneasy, according to the study.

To illustrate this point, Padela and Pablo Rodriguez del Pozo, the paper’s co-author and public health professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, imagine a scenario between a male doctor and a woman wearing a hijab who has an injured leg. When the doctor introduces himself, the woman asks, “Are there any woman doctors around?”

The highest preference within Islamic bioethics is a Muslim physician of the same sex, followed by a non-Muslim of the same sex, then a Muslim of the opposite sex. The least preferable choice is a non-Muslim physician of the opposite sex.

Padela suggests that physicians should acknowledge patients who seem uncomfortable, and ask if there is a way to relieve their stress.

In the hypothetical situation in the paper, the physician resolves the problem by discussing why the woman wants to see another doctor, and he calls in a female practitioner who provides the woman with the health care she needs.

Padela said physicians not only need to be aware of religious values that have an impact on health care services, but also must be willing to change their practicing styles to serve the needs of their patients.

“The first step to accommodating a patient’s religious values and practices is to understand what they are and how deeply rooted they are in the patient’s belief system,” he said.

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