Physicians Disclosing Religion in Online Biographies: Patient Perceptions and Decision-Making in the United States


The inclusion of personal information about a healthcare provider is becoming more prevalent within online biographies as a means to help patients make more informed decisions about their future care. While many physicians indicate they are religious, and that spiritual well-being is an important part of one’s overall health, what is unclear is what impact this sort of disclosure within an online biography might have on a prospective patient’s perceptions of that provider. The current study took the form of a 2 (gender of provider: man; woman) × 2 (religion disclosure: yes; no) × 2 (activity: singing in choir; playing on softball team) between-subjects experiment. Participants (n = 551) in the USA were randomly assigned to view one of the eight biography conditions and then asked to rate their perceptions of the physician, and whether they would choose to make a future appointment with that physician. While there were no differences in perceptions (e.g., liking, trustworthiness), more participants who viewed a biography with a religion disclosure indicated an unwillingness to make a future appointment with that physician. A moderated mediation analysis revealed that this effect is only significant for participants with low levels of religiosity and is explained by these participants feeling less similar to an explicitly religious physician. Open-ended responses justifying their decisions found that religion disclosure played a much larger role in not choosing the physician (20% of responses) than for choosing the physician (3% of responses). However, participants wanting a physician of a different gender was the most cited reason for not wanting to select the provider (27.5% of responses). Recommendations for physicians contemplating adding an item about religion within their online biographies are discussed.

Journal of Religion and Health