There are four principles that shape our concept of Health Spirituality
- To be healthy you need spirituality
- Spirituality is any activity or practice that decreases habitual health decision making stemming from fear or stress
- People who have a health spirituality have the capacity and responsibility to make their own healthcare decisions
- The American healthcare industry has a financial and habitual biases that encourages patients to unquestioningly accept treatment decisions
Point One–You Need Spirituality to Be Healthy
Health Spirituality is not a particular belief system rather it is an aspect of many belief systems that is often times overlooked. Spirituality, in its modern usage, connotes a relationship with God who is above the world. In this understanding, spirituality is often limited to praying for miraculous cures when applied to illness. We use the term Health Spirituality to indicate that spirituality is broader and has effects in this world in the here and now.
Many studies have also show the health benefits of spirituality. People with health spirituality tend to have a higher quality of life, better coping mechanisms and in many cases longer life. Though the effects of the spirituality on health have been studied, there has been little emphasis on how spirituality can improve healthcare. Click here to see a how Health Spirituality improves decisions.
Point Two: What is Health Spirituality?
Health Spirituality is any practice or activity that engages a person spirit and enables them to make better health decisions. I think of a patient named Paul for example. Paul is a middle aged male who has struggled with weight all his life. Never morbidly obese but always slightly chunky, he had tried many ways to lose weight with varying degrees of success. One day, he was meditating at church and came to the realization that “Now was the time to lose weight.” Paul did not know why this current resolution was different he just knew it felt different.
He started each day with prayer about food, ended his day with a prayerful review about food and also were take a few moments to calm himself during the day if he felt the urge to eat. He found that he was able to make better decision in what he ate. Over a year he lost 30 pounds. He attributed this change to the day to day effect of his spirituality.
The recovery movement also incorporates spirituality into alcohol and drug treatment. In my early nursing career I worked at an addiction recovery center. I was able to witness first-hand the effects of spiritual practices as outlined in the 12 steps. For recovering addicts, spiritual does not involve a miracle cure but rather a day to day way of living that enable people to stay sober.
Point Three: Better Health Decisions
Point Four: We Live in a Culture Which is Stacked Against Healthy Decisions
Now there may be some explanation about the fourth point that the American Healthcare Industry has a bias against a patient making their own decisions. There has been a great deal of effort on in the last decade for healthcare to become patient centered and to honor a patient’s wishes. Many of these efforts are very useful. Still, providers in the healthcare industry really like patient’s who “decide” to do what the provider recommends. Patients who disagree are often labeled non-compliant.
Compliance can have disastrous effects for patients. Welch and his colleagues and his colleagues at Dartmouth have shown that patients can be over treated for “pseudo-diseases”. Pseudo-disease is a diagnosis like “pre-cancerous” lesion which sounds very serious but really means that a patient has some cells that look abnormal under a microscope and may or may not develop into cancer. This type of diagnosis can lead to more tests, biopsies and evaluations that are unnecessary and can actually cause harm. Such tests are also very expensive and can be lucrative for a provider. Providers will also approve these tests to avoid lawsuits.
This does not mean that all providers are greedy folks who really don’t care for patients. Far from it. Most providers want to do a good job for the patient. However, there exists a culture of over diagnosis in American healthcare that is hard for a provider to resist. The provider must then encourage the patient to comply.
A patient must become his own best advocate or find a provider that will assist in this role. to do this in the face of the unknown creates great fear. Spirituality can help cope with this in many ways but for now it is enough to know that the bias toward over diagnosis must be recongnized.