A first-of-its-kind study of spirituality in physician practices, conducted by Adventist Health System, a faith-based health care organization, in collaboration with the Duke University School of Medicine’s Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health, has reached its completion. The year-long study, called Faith in Practice, examines the attitudes and practices of physicians as they relate to the integration of spirituality in patient care. It was designed to introduce practical strategies for the application of spiritual care in outpatient physician care.
“What we learn from this study could in many ways positively change the way care is administered, and that is exciting,” said Don Jernigan, Ph.D., president/CEO of Adventist Health System. “Our organization’s mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ is as much about the spiritual as it is the clinical, and it’s only fitting that we are at the leading edge of a study of this nature.”
The study, conducted in more than two dozen Adventist Health System facilities across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Illinois, included roughly 520 physicians and providers of varying faiths, and some with no religious affiliation at all, who volunteered to participate and ask three questions to the patients they see:
- Do you have a faith-based support system to help you in times of need?
- Do you have any religious beliefs that might influence your medical decisions?
- Do you have any other spiritual concerns that you would like someone to address?
“We want to see how physicians view spiritual assessments of patients, and if they view it as an integral part of their practice,” said Ted Hamilton, M.D., vice president of medical mission for Adventist Health System. “It’s really about whole-person care, and if addressing the spiritual needs of patients can help contribute to improved outcomes, there is no reason why health care providers shouldn’t view the integration of spirituality in physician practices as good medicine.”
As part of the study, physicians began by taking a brief survey to assess their attitudes and practices toward addressing the spiritual issues of patients in clinical practice, which was followed by an orientation. Participating physicians then retook the survey one month after the orientation, and again after a year of experience assessing patients’ spiritual needs in practice.
“The sheer number of physicians who volunteered to participate in the study seems to indicate that there is a large cohort of providers who, with patient permission and the proper training and support, will embrace spiritual assessments in their practice,” said Kathy Perno, director of medical mission integration for Adventist Health System.
Other research studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of patients who enter a primary doctor’s practice would welcome dialog with their physician about spirituality. The Faith in Practice project follows 30 years of research by Harold G. Koenig, M.D., director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at the Duke University School of Medicine, that suggests a direct relationship between spiritual and religious involvement and human health.
“Caring for the spiritual needs of patients dealing with an ailment can be influential as it pertains to their psychological health and their ability to manage the situation at hand,” said Koenig. “There is a tremendous number of patients who are at least open to discussing their spiritual needs with their physician, and we are seeking to find greater understanding of physicians’ willingness and satisfaction in engaging patients on this topic.”
After extensive analysis, the results from the Faith in Practice study are expected to be released in the mid-to-late 2017.
Adventist Health System | December 2016