Study: Spirituality Linked With Positive Health Outcomes for Patients With Serious Illness

A panel of experts discussed the benefit of incorporating considerations of spirituality as part of patient-centered health care.

It may be beneficial to incorporate spirituality into patient care for both serious illness and overall health, according to investigators from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

"This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern-day literature regarding health and spirituality to date," said Tracy Balboni, MD, MPH, senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, in a statement. "Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care."

The investigators identified and analyzed evidence on spirituality on serious illness and health in studies published between January 2000 and April 2022. Of the 8946 articles about serious illness, 371 met the study’s strict criteria. Additionally, of 6485 articles focused on health outcomes, 215 were included in the study.

A structured, multidisciplinary group of experts reviewed the strongest collected evidence and offered their consensus on the implications for patient health and health care. Included in the panel were 27 experts on spirituality and health care, public health, or medicine, representing a diversity of spiritual and religious views including spiritual-not-religious, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, Christian denominations, and Hindu.

The panel said that for health of individuals, spiritual community participation, exemplified by religious service attendance, was associated with healthier lives, including greater longevity, less occurrences of depression, less risk of suicide, and less risk of substance use.

For many individuals included in the study, the panelists noted that the data demonstrated that spirituality influenced key outcomes in illness, quality of life, and medical care decisions. Further, the consensus implications included incorporating considerations of spirituality as part of patient-centered health care, as well as increasing awareness among physicians and health care professionals regarding the protective benefits of spiritual community participation.

According to the investigators, the simple act of asking about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centered, value-sensitive care. They said that this information can help health care providers guide further medical decisions, including, but not limited to, notifying a spiritual care specialist.

Spiritual care specialists, such as chaplains, are individuals who are trained to provide clinical pastoral care to diverse individuals, whether associated with a religion or otherwise. Chaplains can represent a variety of spiritual backgrounds, including secular and religious backgrounds.

"Overlooking spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the health care system and the clinicians trying to care for them," Howard Koh, the Harvey V. Fineberg professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard Chan School, said in the statement. "Integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance of reaching complete wellbeing and their highest attainable standard of health."

References

Spirituality linked with better health outcomes, patient care. News release. Science Daily. July 12, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220712141303.htm

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