Recent studies to elucidate the effects of prayer on patient outcomes have patched most the holes in the earlier (1988 and before) studies and indicate that there is a positive correlation (though weak at P=0.04).

It is obvious but bears repeating that this does not prove the existence of God. It is a study of prayer and its effects.

Positive Impact of Intercessory Prayer on the Outcomes of Patients in a Coronary Care Unit

Paper: A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit.
Author: Harris WS, et al.
Ref: Arch Intern Med 1999; 159: 2273-2278
Type: Randomized, controlled, double-blind, prospective, parallel-group study

Summary: Prayer for the sick has been a traditional response of loved ones. Intercessory prayer (praying for others) is considered an important therapy for sick patients in some cultures; however, intercessory prayer seldom has been studied scientifically.

This study investigated the impact of intercessory prayer on the clinical course of patients admitted to the coronary care unit (CCU) of a private, university-associated hospital. The intercessors (n=75; 87% female; mean age, 56 years) were from Christian backgrounds; 35% were designated as nondenominational, 27% as Episcopalian, and the remainder as other Protestant groups or Roman Catholic. The intercessors were divided into 15 teams and were given the first name of the patients; prayer began within an average of 1.2 days after the patients’ admittance to the CCU. The intercessors prayed daily for 28 days "for a speedy recovery with no complications." The patient group was randomized to either the usual care group (n=524; 66% males; mean age, 66 years) or the prayer group (n=466; 61% males; mean age, 66 years). The patients were admitted to the CCU with a variety of comorbid conditions, the most common of which were as follows: coronary artery disease (319 patients in the usual care group versus 282 patients in the prayer group), hypertension (297 versus 253), acute myocardial infarction (234 versus 215), and diabetes (115 versus 93). Patients were not told that they were being prayed for and intercessors did not know or meet the patients.

The primary predefined endpoint was the weighted Mid America Heart Institute (MAHI)-CCU score, which is a continuous variable that describes the outcomes from excellent to catastrophic. The investigators also calculated a Hospital Course Score for each patient for comparison purposes. There was an 11% mean reduction in weighted (severity-adjusted) MAHI-CCU scores for the prayer group compared with the usual care group (6.35 versus 7.13; p=0.04). There was also a 10% mean reduction in unweighted MAHI-CCU scores for the prayer group versus the usual care group (3.00 versus 2.70, p=0.04). There were no significant differences between the groups for any individual component of the MAHI-CCU score. Mean lengths of stay were not different (median length of stay, 4 days). There were no significant differences between groups using the Hospital Course Score.

This study found lower overall adverse outcomes for CCU patients who received intercessory prayer compared with patients who received standard care. Although no mechanistic explanation could be generated, the use of intercessory prayer as an adjunct to standard medical care was recommended for further exploration.

As of 2006, the aforementioned follow-up study has been completed. It found no difference in health outcomes for patients who were provided with intercessory prayer vs those who were not. In fact, patients who were told that they were being prayed for experienced a higher incidence of complications.

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