Spirituality linked to better health outcomes, patient care | New


For immediate release: July 12, 2022

Boston, MA—Spirituality should be integrated into care for critical illnesses and overall health, according to a study by researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic review of the modern health and spiritual literature to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. and professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in critical illness and health should be a critical component of future person-centered care, and the findings should stimulate further nationwide discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this kind of values-sensitive care.

“Spirituality is important to many patients when thinking about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their illness.”

The study, which was co-authored by Balboni, VanderWeele, and lead author Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of Public Health Leadership Practice at Harvard Chan School, was published online in JAMA on July 12, 2022. Balboni, VanderWeele, and Koh are also co-chairs of the Cross-Faculty Initiative on Health, Spirituality, and Religion at Harvard University.

According to the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care, spirituality is “the way individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.” This could include organized religion, but extends far beyond to include ways to find ultimate meaning by connecting, for example, to family, community, or nature.

In the study, Balboni, VanderWeele, Koh and their colleagues systematically identified and analyzed the highest quality evidence on spirituality in critical illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022. Of the 8,946 articles covered by serious illnesses, 371 articles met the study criteria. strict inclusion criteria, as did 215 of the 6,485 articles focusing on health outcomes.

A structured, multidisciplinary panel of experts, called a Delphi panel, then reviewed the strongest collective evidence and proposed consensus implications for health and healthcare.

They noted that for healthy people, participation in the spiritual community – exemplified by attendance at religious services – is associated with a healthier life, including greater longevity, less depression and suicide, and less consumption. of substances. For many patients, spirituality is important and influences key disease outcomes, such as quality of life and medical care decisions. Implications of the consensus included the integration of spirituality considerations as part of patient-centered health care and increased awareness among clinicians and health care professionals of the protective benefits of spiritual community participation.

The 27-member panel was made up of experts in spirituality and health care, public health or medicine, and represented a diversity of spiritual/religious views, including spiritual and non-religious, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, diverse Christian and Hindu denominations. .

The simple act of asking questions about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centered, values-sensitive care, researchers say. Information gained from the conversation may guide other medical decisions, including but not limited to notification of a spiritual care specialist. Spiritual care specialists, such as chaplains, are trained to provide clinical pastoral care to a variety of patients, whether non-religious spiritual or from various religious traditions. The chaplains themselves represent a variety of spiritual backgrounds, including secular and religious.

“Neglecting spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the healthcare system and the clinicians trying to care for them,” Koh said. “Integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance of achieving complete well-being and their best possible health.”

Other Harvard Chan co-writers include Stephanie Doan-Soares and Katelyn Long.

This research was supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

“Spirituality in Critical Illness and Health,” Tracy Balboni, Tyler VanderWeele, Stephanie Doan-Soares, Katelyn Long, Betty Ferrell, George Fitchett, Harold Koenig, Paul Bain, Christina Puchalski, Karen Steinhauser, Daniel Sulmasy, and Howard K. Koh , JAMA, online July 12, 2022, doi: 10.1001/jama.2022.11086.

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Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and generate powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators and students, we work together to bring innovative ideas from the lab to people’s lives, not only achieving scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change the individual behaviors, public policies and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 Harvard Chan School faculty members teach more than 1,000 full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the school is recognized as America’s oldest professional public health training program.


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