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Journeying Beyond the Physical: Addressing a Patient’s Spiritual Concerns

By Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE

HC provider cupping patients hand (for web)Based on evidence presented in the Institute of Medicine’s 2008 report, “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs,” the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) has phased in a new standard – 3.2: Psychosocial Distress Screening. The goal of utilizing a psychosocial distress screening tool is to ensure patients’ emotional and psychological needs are being addressed – in addition to their physical disease and symptoms.  CoC Standard 3.2 includes the following description of the psychosocial assessment:  “This assessment will confirm the presence of physical, psychological, social, spiritual [emphasis added], and financial support needs and identify the appropriate referrals as needed.”

In an article published in the March/April 2017 edition of ACCC’s journal Oncology Issues, the Reverend Lori McKinley outlines how Mercy Health lived up to its promise to “make lives better – mind, body and spirit” by incorporating a rating for various spiritual concerns of a patient or loved one. The Spiritual Care Team at Mercy recognized that just addressing emotional and physical needs of patients is not enough.  After performing an extensive literature review and developing connections with community-based organizations, the Mercy team made significant quality-related, evidence-based changes to their electronic health record (EHR) to accommodate a new and improved distress screening tool. Learn more about their pilot project here.

Indeed, a patient’s spirituality is directly related to their quality of life and has a direct correlation to giving  patients meaning, a sense of purpose and understanding during a critical time in their lives. In “Spirituality in the Cancer Trajectory,”  author C.M. Puchalski writes that “Spirituality is an essential element of person-centered care and a critical factor in the way patients with cancer cope with their illness from diagnosis through treatment, survival, recurrence and dying.” Her article goes on to identify the link between spirituality and “inner peace, gratitude and positivity” when facing a life-changing diagnosis such as cancer. She writes that with proper support, a patient may begin to view their cancer diagnosis as a positive life-changing experience, ultimately paying greater time and attention to higher priorities in their lives. This is not possible if a patient’s spiritual needs are not addressed routinely throughout their care.

Puchalski further points out that religion is but one type of expression of spirituality so non-faith based organizations should not dismiss the concept or its importance. In fact, she writes, a majority of patients want their oncologist or healthcare professional to address their spiritual concerns and integrate their needs and wishes into their care plan.

Not surprisingly, this is what the Spiritual Care Team at Mercy discovered during their pilot program. With the addition of four questions addressing spiritual concerns in their distress screening tool, they were able to more effectively connect patients with their faith, alleviate fears, and assist patients with addressing their trepidation at the end-of-life. Isn’t that what all of us want for our patients?

Reference

Puchalski CM. Spirituality in the cancer trajectory. Ann Oncol. 2012;23(suppl_3):49-55.


Contributing blogger Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE, is Executive Director, DSRIP, Bassett Healthcare Network, and Chair of the ACCC Editorial Committee.