New research shows the way to improve life and health includes focusing on more than just what is happening with our physical bodies. Scientists at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that spirituality should be incorporated into care for serious illness and overall health as it results in better health outcomes and patient care.
The International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care defines spirituality as the way individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value or transcendence. It is expressed in organized religion as well as by those searching for ultimate meaning through connection to family, community or nature.
The results of the positive association between spirituality and health were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date," said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer. "Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care."
Researchers poured over more than 20 years of research regarding spirituality and health and pared down the list of nearly 9,000 articles to 371 high-quality reports on serious illness. They also identified 215 of more than 6,000 articles on health outcomes.
A diverse group of experts in spirituality and healthcare, called a Delphi panel, which represented a wide range of beliefs and traditions reviewed the data. They noted spiritual community participation as characterized by religious service attendance is associated with a long list of benefits such as greater longevity, less depression, suicide and substance abuse. Spirituality was shown to influence key outcomes in illness such as quality of life and medical care decisions.
The consensus of the panel is spirituality should be considered as part of patient-centered healthcare by increasing awareness among health professionals about the positive benefits of spiritual community participation.
"Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health," said researcher Tyler VanderWeele. "Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease."
"Overlooking spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the health care system and the clinicians trying to care for them," said study senior author Howard Koh. "Integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance of reaching complete well-being and their highest attainable standard of health."