Focus on spiritual health could benefit patients, doctors

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Evidence suggests that patients’ health and quality of life could benefit if their doctors gave more attention to spiritual health — and this could even help the doctors themselves, according to experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a July 27, 2017 JAMA Viewpoint article, Harvard Chan School’s Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology, Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, and co-author Tracy Balboni of Dana Farber Cancer Institute outlined recent research suggesting a broad protective relationship between religious participation and population health as well as the value of spiritual approaches to medical care, particular at the end of patients’ lives.

In spite of the research, a focus on spirituality is often considered outside the realm of modern medicine, according to the authors. Most physicians have not received training in spiritual care and most patients don’t receive it. But paying more attention to spiritual matters could benefit both patients and clinicians. For instance, as part of obtaining a routine social history, doctors could ask patients whether they have a religious or spiritual support system that helps them in times of need—and the doctors could then use that information to inform future care. Patients often discover strength and solace in their spirituality, the authors wrote, and clinicians facing professional issues such as burnout could benefit from attending to their own spiritual health.

Read the JAMA article: Health and Spirituality