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The role of prayer and spirituality in healthcare

Editor’s note: This article was written by guest blogger Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, a healthcare marketing and experience management expert and expert guide in assisted living for about.com. For more information about the author, please see our About page.

A recent survey shows that health problems have spurred more Americans to prayer in recent years.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts surveyed 30,080 adults in 2002 and 22,306 adults in 2007. In 2002, 43% of those surveyed said they prayed about their health. That number jumped to 49% in 2007, according to The New York Times. In 1999, only 14% of survey participants reported praying about their health.

Well it should come as no surprise that collectively the health of the nation is worsening. I personally blame the obesity epidemic as the harbinger of all chronic conditions that fall in line after it. And then there are the baby boomers, myself included, who probably figure we are invincible. Let’s face it. The nation is aging.

Researchers had their own reasons, speculating that the Sept. 11 terror attacks might explain the jump in prayerfulness, though they believe more study is needed.

Yet in the face of this, hospital and long-term care providers continue to cut pastoral care and chaplaincy programs at the time they are needed most. Perhaps this is a call for reevaluation.

According to the editors at PureHealthMD, some studies have found prayer to be helpful to patients even if they did not specifically know they were being prayed for. Studies have found that patients admitted to critical care units have benefited from intercessory prayer, prayer that is not in person or even known by the subject. The group receiving prayers often had less complicating issues, needed less ventilator support, and fewer antibiotics.

Another study looking at anxiety and depression found that subjects who prayed for a second group, and the members receiving the prayers in the second group, both enjoyed improvements in several parameters of mood.

An additional study showed that those patients offered spiritual help in hospitals scored the hospital higher in terms of patient satisfaction. Perhaps patient satisfaction is one of the greatest assets of prayer. After all, hope, strength, comfort and peace, not necessarily a cure, is what people are seeking.

More systemically, healthcare has to heal itself first before it can hope to have a fighting chance at creating sustainable patient experiences. Witness the case in Seattle where a nurse was fired after committing a medical error that resulted in the death of a child then committed suicide herself. Where was the nurse’s organization to help her in her grief?

Patient experience starts with employee experience. And patient healing also starts with employee healing. We need to pay more attention to the needs of our employees in the areas of their spirituality and self-healing.

What do you think?