Spirituality should be incorporated into care for both serious illness and overall health, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care.”
“Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease.”
The study, which was co-authored by Balboni, VanderWeele, and senior author Howard Koh, the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard Chan School, will be published online in JAMA on July 12, 2022. Balboni, VanderWeele, and Koh are also co-chairs of the Interfaculty Initiative on Health, Spirituality, and Religion at Harvard University.
According to the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care, spirituality is “the way individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.” This could include organized religion but extends well beyond to include ways of finding ultimate meaning by connecting, for example, to family, community, or nature.
In the study, Balboni, VanderWeele, Koh, and colleagues systematically identified and analyzed the highest-quality evidence on spirituality in serious illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022. Of the 8,946 articles concerned with serious illness, 371 articles met the study’s strict inclusion criteria, as did 215 of the 6,485 articles focused on health outcomes.
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