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Conversations About Spiritual Concerns Help Improve Hospital Patient Satisfaction


Religious and spiritual issues are of particular concern to patients and their families during a time of illness. But unfortunately, many health care professionals do not address these needs during hospital stays. Doing so would improve the overall care experience and increase patient satisfaction ratings, finds a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Patient satisfaction is measured by survey in hospitals to ensure quality of care. Dr. John Santa, the director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, notes that how a person experiences their care is an outcome in itself and that encouraging communication about a patient’s needs means that it is less likely that errors will occur and more likely that a patient will follow through with their treatments.

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Religion and spirituality is a need that often goes unmet in a hospital setting. Joshua Williams from the University of Chicago finds that about 20% of patients report that their religious desires during their stay were not addressed.

The findings come from data collected between January 2006 and June 2009 and include survey results from over 3,000 patients. The team found that just over 40% of patients wanted to discuss religious or spiritual concerns while in the hospital, but in only half of the cases did a conversation take place. Most of those discussions were with a chaplain (61%). Only in 8% of cases did a physician assess a patient’s spiritual needs. Older patients, African Americans, women and those in severe pain were more likely to have religious concerns while hospitalized.

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For those who did speak with someone about their religious desires, satisfaction scores were higher on doctors’ care, confidence and trust in doctors, teamwork among healthcare professionals, and overall care. Even patients who did not report wanting such a conversation at the beginning of their hospitalization scored the hospital higher when someone asked if their needs had been addressed, says senior author Farr Curlin MD, an associate professor of medicine.

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Dr. Manoj Pawar MD offers tips to hospitals and physicians for improving patient satisfaction in the 2005 journal Family Practice Management. First is to establish a sense of trust. Encouraging patient communication about any and all needs can relieve fear associated with illness and hospitalization and will foster trust and confidence in care.

Second, Dr. Pawar says to uncover the patient’s actual needs. This is accomplished with good dialogue (not monologue), open-ended questions, and goal to assist the patient with meeting their healthcare expectations.

Third, always follow-up with the patient on mutually agreed upon goals for their treatment. Once a patient leaves the hospital, they may not remember everything they should do to maintain health. Good follow-up and developing a strong relationship will not only make the patient healthier, but will encourage the patient to recommend the care setting to others.

Farr A. Curlin, John D. Lantos, et al. “Religious characteristics of U.S. physicians: A national survey” JOURNAL OF GENERAL INTERNAL MEDICINE Volume 20, Number 7, 629-634, DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0119.x
Manoj Pawar MD, MMM “Five Tips for Generating Patient Satisfaction and Compliance”
Fam Pract Manag. 2005 Jun;12(6):44-46.