Putting faith in medicine: Medical establishment moves toward a more holistic model of health care

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

There are indications of progress, though. According to Koenig, in the 1990s only a handful of medical schools addressed spirituality in their curriculum. Today, 90 percent do.

That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, as just 7 percent have a dedicated, required course on religion, spirituality and medicine, and only one-third offer even an elective.

Koenig said one place that’s getting it right is Loma Linda University, the Seventh-day Adventist health sciences institution in Southern California.

“They’re actually doing what we think ought to be done.”

Elaborating on what that entails, he said that health care professionals should take a spiritual history on all patients with serious or chronic medical illness or psychiatric problems. Only 10 percent of doctors currently do this. They should also learn what role that person’s religious beliefs play in helping them to cope — or possibly create — stress in their life.

Once they’ve identified a patient’s spiritual needs, they should connect the patient to someone who can address those needs, usually a chaplain. Considerable evidence shows that taking these steps improves patients’ satisfaction and quality of life while reducing the cost of health care.

“People with unmet spiritual needs are more likely, especially toward the end of life, to demand high-cost, life-preserving therapy in medically futile situations,” he explained.

May is optimistic that the medical establishment is starting to see the light.

“Some doctors pooh-pooh (the relationship between spirituality and health), but many are now getting on board with this because they know — they see it.

“My doctors were wonderful and the medical model is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. It needs to take into account the psychological and spiritual aspect of a person, the holistic aspect.”

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