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Chaplaincy Services Improve End-of-Life Outcomes and Patient Experience

When it comes to end-of-life care, addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of patients is just as crucial as providing medical support. In recent years, the role of chaplaincy services in end-of-life care has gained recognition for their potential to improve patient well-being during this critical stage. One study that sheds light on this topic is “A national study of chaplaincy services and end-of-life outcomes” published in 2012 by Flannelly et al. in BMC Palliative Care, which explores the impact of chaplaincy interventions on end-of-life outcomes.

Large National Study of Spiritual Care’s Impact on Hospital End-of-Life Outcomes

The Flannelly study aimed to examine the association between chaplaincy services and various aspects of patient well-being and outcomes during the end-of-life period. The researchers conducted a national study, analyzing data from a large sample of patients who received chaplaincy services across 3,585 hospitals over a 5 year period. By exploring variables such as spiritual support, religious coping, decision-making, and psychological well-being, the study sought to uncover the impact of chaplaincy interventions on end-of-life outcomes.

Chaplaincy Services Associated with Lower Hospital Deaths and Higher Hospice Enrollment

The findings of the Flannelly study revealed the significant role that chaplaincy services play in improving the spiritual and emotional well-being of patients facing end-of-life situations.

The study investigated the impact of chaplaincy services specifically on hospital deaths and hospice enrollment. The findings revealed significant associations between chaplaincy services and both outcomes. Hospitals that provided chaplaincy services had significantly lower rates of hospital deaths, even when controlling for various factors such as region, population density, and hospital beds. Additionally, chaplaincy services were associated with higher rates of hospice enrollment.

The study discussed the potential reasons behind these associations, suggesting that chaplains help patients and families align their core values with their healthcare goals, ultimately leading to more comfort with end-of-life decisions. The results were consistent with previous research, which found that meeting the spiritual needs of patients was linked to higher patient and family satisfaction, as well as increased likelihood of receiving hospice care.

Chaplaincy Services Associated with Higher Patient Satisfaction

A variety of studies have shown that patients who received spiritual support from chaplains reported higher levels of satisfaction with their care and experienced greater peace and comfort during the dying process. These findings highlight the importance of addressing the holistic needs of patients and recognizing the impact of spirituality on their overall well-being.

In a study titled “Relationship Between Chaplain Visits and Patient Satisfaction” conducted by Marin et al. published in 2015 in the Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, researchers explored the relationship between chaplain visits and patient satisfaction.

This study investigated the relationship between chaplain visits and patient satisfaction, as measured by Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) and Press Ganey surveys from 8,978 patients who had been discharged from a tertiary care hospital. The researchers examined the frequency of chaplain visits and their correlation with patient satisfaction scores. They also considered various factors such as patient demographics, religious affiliation, and overall perception of care.

The findings of the study indicated a positive association between chaplain visits and patient satisfaction. Patients who received visits from chaplains reported higher levels of satisfaction with their healthcare experience. The study suggested that chaplaincy services played a significant role in addressing patients’ emotional and spiritual needs, enhancing overall satisfaction with their care.

Integrating Spiritual Care into Inpatient Services

Recognizing the positive outcomes associated with spiritual care services, on hospital mortality, hospice enrollment, and patient satisfaction, it becomes crucial to integrate them into comprehensive inpatient care generally and palliative care in particular. By incorporating chaplains into care delivery, healthcare provider organizations can ensure a holistic approach that attends to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients. This integration enables a more comprehensive and person-centered approach to end-of-life care, ultimately improving patient experiences and reducing hospital mortality.

The Role of Virtual Spiritual Care

As shown by both Flannelly et al. and Marin et al., chaplaincy services play an invaluable role in impacting inpatient care delivery. Yet, many barriers exist to accessing chaplain services.

To further expand access to spiritual care services in an inpatient setting, providers who lack sufficient chaplain coverage can augment their chaplain teams with virtual spiritual care. Much in the same way that telehealth has expanded access to specialists who might not be adequately staffed across all hospitals, virtual chaplain services can allow hospitals to further incorporate chaplain visits into care delivery. Virtual care delivery allows for increased coverage during nights and weekends and across geographic settings.

Furthermore, a religiously diverse virtual chaplain network extends access to patients with a diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs enabling the healthcare team to be sensitive to individual preferences. Chaplains play a crucial role in creating a safe and supportive environment for patients to explore their values, beliefs, and concerns related to their healthcare journey and virtual care can help extend access to this often lacking component to whole-person hospital care.

Andrew Savitz
Chief Executive Officer