cancer study shows need for spiritual

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cancer Study Shows Need for Spiritual Care

I was alerted to this journal article by many sources, but I’ll give pallimed the credit.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology finds, unsurprisingly I might add, that cancer patients are not getting the spiritual support they need. I don’t think anyone thought the study would show that the medical system was giving them the spiritual support they needed, and we were right. 72% reported that they were not getting the spiritual support needed from the medical system. More surprising to many is that 47% are not getting their needs met by the religious community. The most important finding of the study is probably the fact that spiritual support is associated with better Quality of Life. This brings two thoughts to mind.

First, it is another very strong argument for “concurrent care”. There is a editorial that was published alongside the study that encourages oncologists to get better at doing spiritual assessments and increase the number of chaplain referrals made, but I don’t see that happening on a scale that could fix this problem. I also don’t know that the type of chaplain care the patient will get would be sufficient. Actually, I guess I’m saying that I have more faith in the hospice chaplain than the chaplain that the oncologist would be referring to. The hospice chaplain would be meeting with the patient in their home which almost always helps pave the way for open and honest dialogue. Of course, most patients that are still visiting their oncologist are also taking chemo, which means that without “concurrent care” they would not be able to access the spiritual care that comes with hospice. Thus, this is a fact based argument that concurrent care will increase quality of life for the patient.

My second though, which somewhat refutes my first, is that this article should be a wake up call to many hospices across the nation. In many/most hospice offices across the nation, the hospice chaplain is the forgotten stepchild of the team. Some hospices, especially small ones, push spiritual care off on a social worker with little or no spiritual training. If there is a real spiritual need, the social worker sends them to someone else. That someone else is often the pastor who is, according to the study, already failing to provide the minimum level of care expected by the patient. That is not spiritual care. Spiritual care is associated with better Quality of Life. That is a huge finding, and should be a wake-up call for every hospice that pays little attention to this part of their program. It is time for every hospice in the nation to give the Chaplain a real seat at the table. Give them patient loads that allow them to do their jobs well, and the respect they deserve from the clinical staff.