Integrating spirituality into health care improves many essential outcomes, including patient satisfaction (Atkinson et al., 2018). For decades, studies have pointed out that when health care organizations address patients’ spiritual needs, they receive higher patient satisfaction scores. Clark et al. (2003) studied over 1.7 million responses to a Press Ganey patient satisfaction survey that assessed “the degree to which staff addressed your emotional/spiritual needs.” They found that spiritual and emotional needs are important to hospitalized patients, and how a hospital addresses them (or not) has a strong relationship with how patients rate their experience of that hospitalization (Clark et al., 2003). In a study of over 3,000 responses to survey questions, Williams et al. (2011) found that patients who had discussions about spirituality and religion with their health care team members gave higher satisfaction ratings on the Picker-Commonwealth patient satisfaction survey.
Additional evidence points to the fact that spiritual care provided by chaplains improves the patient experience. In a study of 35 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Iler et al. (2011) found that daily visits by a chaplain improved overall patient experience. VandeCreek (2004) had a similar finding in his study of 1,400 patients at 14 different hospitals in the U.S. in which chaplaincy visits were correlated with higher overall satisfaction. An analysis of nearly 9,000 responses to Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) and Press Ganey surveys revealed that chaplains’ visits were correlated with a greater likelihood of patients indicating that hospital staff met their spiritual needs (Marin et al., 2015).
To meet patients’ spiritual and religious needs and thus improve one aspect of their hospitalization experience, health care systems should integrate the interprofessional spiritual care model proposed by Puchalski et al. (2009). In this relational model, patients and members of the health care team work collaboratively to assess and address spiritual distress (Puchalski et al., 2009). This model builds upon Handzo and Koenig’s (2004) generalist/specialist approach to spiritual care in which health care professionals with a minimal amount of training function as spiritual care generalists. Their primary role is to sensitively ask patients questions (using spiritual screens and/or spiritual histories) to determine if they are actively experiencing spiritual distress. When generalists identify spiritual distress, they consult with the spiritual care specialist, a health care chaplain, who conducts an in-depth spiritual assessment, develops a plan of care aligned with the medical team’s care plan, and intervenes to alleviate patients’ spiritual distress. When patients express specific religious needs (such as a request for confession and absolution or religious counsel), the chaplain coordinates the patient’s religious care by working with local religious leaders. This entire process is communicated to the health care team to ensure that care is properly coordinated. As health care leaders continue to shift towards incorporating an interprofessional spiritual care model, more data should be collected about patients’ hospitalization experiences when their spiritual needs are addressed.