Importance of Spiritual History Taking and Religiously Affiliated Care: The Patient’s Perspective Jeffrey Fuchs, BS, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Background: Recently, a small number of studies have sought to define healthcare providers’ attitudes toward spirituality and spiritual history taking both in theory and in practice. However, little is known about patients’ perspectives on spiritual history taking. Additionally, although it is estimated that nearly 20% of hospital beds in community settings in the United States are provided by a religiously affiliated hospitals, little is known about patient’s attitudes toward receiving care at these types of institutions. This study seeks to understand patient’s perspectives on the importance of spiritual history taking both in theory and in practice and to identify patient’s attitudes towards religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics.
Methods: We conducted a survey using Likert scale-type and free responses of patients >18 years old who receive medical care in non-religiously affiliated primary care offices in Lincoln County, Colorado between July-September 2019. Demographic information, measures of religiosity and spirituality (R/S), experience with spiritual history taking, and opinions regarding religious affiliation of providers and health care systems.
Results: 60 patients completed the survey (response rate 70.59%), representing more than 1% of the population of Lincoln County. 41 patients (68.3%) surveyed were female, the average year born was 1971 (± 18.8 years), and 56 patients (93.3%) identified as white/Caucasian (non-hispanic). Forty two patients (70%) identified as belonging to a religion with the majority of patients identifying with a Christian denomination. Of the 17 patients who did not identify with a religion, 14 identified as spiritual. The average medical visits for all patients was 6.1 (±8.5) in the past year. During these visits, 43 patients (71.6%) had never been asked about their R/S beliefs. One patient stated that they were “usually” asked about their beliefs and no patients were always asked about their beliefs. In contrast, 27 patients (45%) thought it was at least somewhat important that the people caring for them know about their R/S beliefs. When asked if patients preferred to receive care at a clinic/hospital affiliated with their own religion, 9 patients would prefer a clinic affiliated with their own religion, 2 patients would preferred a clinic affiliated with a religion other than their own, and 44 patients (73.3%) had no preference as to the religious affiliation. Only 5 patients (8.3%) would prefer to get health care at a clinic that is not affiliated with any religion.
Conclusions: Although almost half of patients (45%) thought that it was at least somewhat important for their providers to know about their spiritual beliefs, 71.6% of patients had never been asked about their beliefs over the past year. The majority of patients (73.3%) have no preference as to religious affiliation of their health care and a small number of patients (8.3%) would prefer to get care at a non-religiously affiliated clinic. This study provides a first step in understanding patient’s attitudes towards spiritual history taking and religiously affiliated care. This study should be expanded to diverse geographies with distinct demographics in order to further characterize patient perspectives on these issues in the current era.