Spirituality: A key component to creating a health care system

The healthcare system is broken and needs fixing, according to Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP in the recently released documentary, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.

Through a wide variety of examples, Berwick, who is also President and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, provides data and evidence for his premise.

He refers to the current system as “disease management” not “health care.” According to the film, a “disease management” system does not want a patient to die, but does want the patient to keep returning for more medications, medical procedures, and treatment.

According to those speaking in the film, this “broken system” is not patient-centered but commands more expedient care allowing only 7 minutes per patient no matter what the problem is.  It also brings out that many healthcare providers have left their practices to find other avenues for helping others for this very reason. These men and women feel it is more important to take the time to listen to their patients,  and have found this  often gets to the root of the problem without drugs or surgeries.

This approach lets the patient know their well-being, both mental and physical health, is the most important issue at the time of their appointment and goes a long way to calm the patient, arrest the fear besetting them, and ultimately heal them.

This patient-focused approach and its positive outcomes are common to care providers who offer integrative, alternative and prayer-based care – and patients are increasingly choosing these other methodologies.

As one who is interested in prayer-based care, I asked a friend of mine, who is an administrative nurse at a large area hospital, how important she considered prayer or the spirituality of a patient to be in the healing process.  She said she would rate it #1.  She added that, in her experience, those who prayed consistently and whose spiritual needs were met and ministered unto recovered more quickly and were happier and more confident in their recovery.

Increased evidence inside and outside of medical circles and my own experience tell me that spiritual beliefs and practices have an immense impact on the patients’ well being and road to recovery.

“Spiritual care is integral to the science and art of healing, and therefore a critical component in the quality of care.” says Elaine J. Yuen, PhD, Research Associate Professor, Department of Health Policy Center for Research in Medical Education, Jefferson Medical College.(1)

Recognizing patients’ needs through taking the time to listen, medical schools have added courses on spirituality to their curricula.  “In the past decade,…courses on spirituality have increased from three schools in 1992 to 84 in 2004.” (2)

As one example among these universities, the curricula at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Medicine, includes a course on the importance of spirituality in patient care.  The objective is to “expand students’ conceptualization of the patient as person to include dimensions of spiritual beliefs and needs” and “to understand how patients’ spiritual belief system impacts their health.”

Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian healer of the 19th century said, “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness.” (3)

Escape Fire brings out many of the problems and also offers solutions for what is seen as a failing system.  Spiritual Care is one that should be added to the list of ways to improve the experience of patients and their outcomes – and, thus, that improves the entire health care system.

In observance of National Spiritual Care Week, October 21-27

Photo uploaded from flickr.com by Truthout.org

(1)  http://jdc.jefferson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1569&context=hpn

(2) Fortin AH, Bearnett KG.  Medical school curricula in spirituality and medicine.  JAMA. 2004;291(23):2883

(3)  Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy.

Kate is interested in blogging about health, spirituality, Christian Science, science, the importance of prayer and religion.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.  She is married and has 4 grown and married children and 2 grandchildren.  She and her husband enjoy hiking, especially with Callie, a Blue Heeler, and riding motorcycles.  She also has the best and most courageous cat, Cleo, who is best friends with a beagle named Maple. 



  1. With more technology in medicine there is less and less personal contact. Tests are run, many times, to avoid a possible lawsuit down the road in this ever increasingly litigious society. Getting to know the patient takes a backseat to covering oneself.

    Allowing 7 minutes per patient….some of us can remember house calls.

    • Thank you Mike. Nothing beats person to person communication, compassion and a good listener.

  2. thank you for these weekly blogs, i love the information, format, and gentle delivery of balanced info.