Are healthcare systems failing to address spiritual wellness?
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found significant deficiencies in spiritual care services for end of life patients. Tracy Balboni, an oncologist that works with cancer patients and author of the study, reported that 88% of terminally ill cancer patients claim that religion is important to them to some degree. The study, which surveyed 230 people with less than a year to live, found that terminally ill people have very little support from the religious community. 70% of the participants in the study claimed that health care professionals or chaplains did not meet their spiritual needs during treatment. Balboni reported patients that did feel their spiritual health was tended to felt their quality of life was better during treatment. On a fifty point scale measuring quality of life, patients that had their spiritual needs met during treatment ranked 14 points higher than those that did not.
The unsettling findings of the study are due to several factors. Many hospitals may not have large enough budgets to support chaplains. Another hindrance to support from the religious community is that many terminally ill patients are home bound. Additionally, many doctors avoid the issue of faith with patients to keep from imposing their beliefs and to stay away from any legal liabilities.
There is clearly a responsibility for the spiritual well being of terminally ill patients on the part of the religious community, chaplains and health care professionals. Pastors and priests must be diligent to stay connected with congregants. Doctors and other health care professionals, if not providing spiritual support, need to act as liaisons, referring terminally ill patients to churches and chaplains. Lastly, the importance of chaplains in health care systems needs to be recognized by those in charge of structuring personnel.