Often overlooked, spiritual care can have a vast impact on a patient's overall medical experience. This care can range from merely helping a patient practice religious customs or traditions while receiving treatment to providing spiritual guidance after a life-altering diagnosis. To ensure that chaplains and healthcare professionals alike are providing quality spiritual provisions to their patients, the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN) has recently passed the first comprehensive quality indicators for spiritual care.
Based on the consensus of a distinguished, international panel of experts convened by HCCN, these indicators were established to help put spiritual care and professional chaplaincy on par with other healthcare disciplines already directed by specific quality indicators. This was done in an attempt to combat the prior lack of focus in regard to defining what quality spiritual care means and how to go about measuring it.
"It starts with identifying the people who have spiritual care needs and really talking to them about their values and beliefs, the essence of chaplaincy," explained Rev. George Handzo, who chaired the panel and is HCCN's director of health services research and quality. "It's not telling people how to believe, but instead helping them to mobilize their beliefs and to make meaning of the service of their healings."
Applying broadly to spiritual caregivers overall, these guidelines can provide newfound insight to professional healthcare associations, administrators, clinical teams, researchers, spiritual care providers and other stakeholders worldwide. By placing emphasis on value over volume of service, these indicators are designed to elevate the quality of spiritual, emotional and physical care patients can expect to receive.
These comprehensive evidence-based indicators1 begin to answer the question, "What is quality spiritual care in healthcare and how do you measure it?" In doing so, they addresses what certification or credentials are required of spiritual care professionals proportionate to the size and complexity of the unit served and if dedicated sacred space is available for meditation, reflection and ritual.
They also discuss the presentation of available spiritual care services to better assess client satisfaction. Structural indicators also seek to guarantee that professional education and development programs in spiritual care are provided for all disciplines on the team, and that spiritual care quality measures are reported regularly.
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Next, quality indicators include recognizing that all clients and their families are offered the opportunity to have a discussion of religious and spiritual concerns, and that spiritual care is provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. Spiritual, religious and cultural practices must be facilitated for clients, as should be their values and beliefs. To best adhere to a patient's spiritual beliefs, an assessment of religious and existential concerns using a structured instrument should be conducted, and the results integrated into the overall care plan.
As far as outcomes are concerned, indicators should seek to ensure that a client's spiritual needs are met, that the care reduces spiritual distress, increases client satisfaction and spiritual well-being. It should also facilitate meaning-making for clients and family members as well as increase a client's sense of peace through the intervention.
Although there was once a time when most hospital services were somehow related or connected to a religious-based system, today that is no longer necessarily the case. Over time, a more secular approach has been taken in operations, with less emphasis on spiritual care.
By incorporating spiritual care back into healthcare environments with assistance from quality-based indicators, patients are once again able to turn to spiritual resources during illness and other painful experiences, finding guidance and comfort. Trained to encourage helpful religious coping processes, chaplains play an integral role in supporting and strengthening these religious and spiritual resources.
"Much research has been able to be pulled together in this quality indicators report so that we're now able to see the change and understand the impact that spiritual care does provide to individuals, families and institutions," explained Eric Hall, president and CEO of HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, who was the driving force behind publication of the quality indicators. "What we have now is an understanding that spiritual care does reduce spiritual distress and facilitates meaning."
No longer able to dismiss the importance of spiritual care, research has proven the value of these quality indicators. Although they are not absolute, as more data is produced they will be able to be adjusted accordingly. As medical providers constantly strive to improve the value of medical care for the physical body, they must also continue working toward understanding how psychology helps the mind produce better outcomes.
"American healthcare is measured on value. It's not how many patients you help, but what the outcomes are for these patients," further explained Hall. "If you work on delivering these outcomes with a more focused approach, good things will happen for patients and in terms of caregiver satisfaction."
Research is an essential mark of any clinical profession and patient satisfaction, and the quality of research denotes a discipline's development. So, while research on chaplaincy services has spanned nearly a half century, its continuation and advancement helps project spiritual care into a future offering more comprehensive services.
Lindsey Nolen is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. HealthCare Chaplaincy Network. What Is Quality Spiritual Care in Health Care and How Do You Measure It? http://www.healthcarechaplaincy.org/docs/research/quality_indicators_document_2_17_16.pdf