Home Health News 'Do you have a sense of peace today?': This hospital now asks about spiritual health

'Do you have a sense of peace today?': This hospital now asks about spiritual health

9 min read

If your primary care doctor is employed by Shawnee Mission Medical Center, you will be asked what seems like some unusual questions at your next appointment.

Questions like:

  • Do you have any spiritual beliefs that would influence your care?
  • Do you have someone who loves you?
  • Do you have something that brings you joy?
  • Do you have a sense of peace today?

The questions are part of a rebranding by Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s parent organization, Adventist Health System, as it seeks to refocus on its faith-based roots.

Florida-based Adventist Health System, which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, will become AdventHealth starting in January. The move should help consumers distinguish between it and similarly named Adventist hospital chains based in California and Maryland.

But Adventist Health System officials said it’s about more than that, writing in a news release that “the name AdventHealth signals the arrival or beginning of health and expresses a strong and clear connection to the healing and salvation that God has promised.”

Shawnee Mission Health CEO Sam Huenergardt said his organization wants to treat the whole patient: body, mind and spirit.

“This name change is a testament to our continued growth and commitment to provide whole-person health care across our entire system,” Huenergardt said, “and we’re excited to see how this transformation allows us to improve the health of the Kansas City community.”

Questions about mental health, like whether a patient has been feeling depressed, have become a routine part of most primary care visits for religious and non-religious medical providers alike.

But Debra Stulberg, a physician and professor at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said what Shawnee Mission Health is doing sounds different.

Stulberg, who researches religious hospitals and medical providers, said med students are often taught to ask patients if they have spiritual beliefs that might influence what type of medical care they want to receive. But asking patients whether they have sources of peace, joy or love in their life is more in the realm of “integrative medicine” which combines traditional treatments with less conventional techniques like acupuncture.

“I haven’t previously heard of any systems that are incorporating these questions through the EMR (elecctronic medical record) or compliance programs,” Stulberg said via email. “I don’t know how commonly any of these questions are asked, how patients feel about being asked, or if these are asked more commonly at religiously affiliated hospitals — these would all be interesting things to know.”

St. Luke’s Health System, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, is the only other religious health system in the Kansas City area. It does not require its primary care doctors to ask questions about spiritual health, but St. Luke’s spokeswoman Michelle Manuel said its “faith-based roots are apparent in our compassionate treatment and care of our patients, our commitment to diversity and respect, and in our dedication to honoring all faiths.”

“When patients are admitted as inpatient or in pre-op, they are routinely asked if there is anything they’d like to share with us about their religion, culture, or background so we might provide better care for them,” Manuel said via email. “In addition, patients are asked whether they are in need of religious, spiritual or emotional support, and if so, chaplains and others are available to provide spiritual support.”

Shawnee Mission Health spokeswoman Morgan Shandler said the new questions have been integrated into patients’ electronic medical records and were posed to more than 5,000 patients in the first two weeks of August.

“Depending on how they answer, we can refer them for spiritual counseling, mental health services, etc.,” Shandler said. “It helps identify if something beyond a physical ailment is contributing to their need for care.”

Shandler said those who are flagged as needing spiritual care are referred to a call center staffed by Adventists and people of other faiths.

“The guidance they provide is not sectarian in nature, but the counselors can help connect the patient to a chaplain or clergy member of a specific faith if they request it,” Shandler said via email.

The people staffing the call center also have information on food banks, shelters, counselors and financial aid programs to share with patients.

Shandler said the new questions are already having an impact.

She said when one patient told her doctor that she did not feel a sense of peace, it spurred a conversation that led to the patient revealing that she was struggling emotionally after a recent death in her family.

“The next day, she received comforting spiritual counsel and prayer over the phone from Sherrie Smith, a chaplain who helps staff the center,” Shandler said. “The patient later thanked her provider for connecting her with Sherrie, and said it had been a reassuring, uplifting experience.”

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