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Florida Hospital Doctors Participate in National Study of Physician Attitudes Toward Spiritual Care

VOLUSIA & FLAGLER COUNTIES, Fla., December 7, 2016 – A year-long, voluntary study, called Faith in Practice, has reached its completion. 
 
Conducted by Adventist Health System, in collaboration with the Duke University School of Medicine’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, this study was the first-of-its-kind and examined spirituality in physician practices. 
 
The study, conducted in more than two dozen Adventist Health System facilities across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois, included approximately 520 physicians and providers of varying faiths, some with no religious affiliation at all. Locally, 56 physicians from Volusia and Flagler counties were involved in the project. 
 
The study examined the attitudes and practices of physicians and how spirituality is integrated into outpatient care. 
 
One physician who participated in the study, Dr. Chiamaka Iheme, a Florida Hospital Flagler family medicine physician in Palm Coast, noted that including spiritual assessments into a medical practice could serve as an opportunity to fill a need that many patients have. 
 
“As doctors, our job is to care for patients,” said Iheme. “Sometimes that means stepping outside of what is seen as conventional medicine and meeting the patients right where their needs lead us. If those needs are spiritual, we should be willing, able and equipped to care for them, otherwise I believe we could leave a critical gap in care.” 
 
The participating physicians were tasked with asking three questions to their patients: 
  • Do you have a faith-based support system to help you in times of need? 
  • Do you have any religious beliefs that might influence your medical decisions? 
  • Do you have any other spiritual concerns that you would like someone to address?  
 
“What we learn from this study could in many ways positively change the way care is administered, and that is exciting,” said Don Jernigan, president/CEO of Adventist Health System. “Our organization’s mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ is as much about the spiritual as it is the clinical, and it’s only fitting that we are at the leading edge of a study of this nature.”
 
As part of the study, physicians took a brief survey to assess their opinions and practices of addressing the spiritual issues of patients. Participating physicians then retook the survey after a year of assessing their patients’ spiritual needs. 
 
“We want to see how physicians view spiritual assessments of patients and if they view it as an integral part of their practice,” said Dr. Ted Hamilton, vice president of medical mission for Adventist Health System. “It’s really about whole-person care, and if addressing the spiritual needs of patients can help contribute to improved outcomes, there is no reason why health care providers shouldn’t view the integration of spirituality in physician practices as good medicine.”
 
Other research studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of patients who enter a primary doctor’s practice would welcome dialog with their physician about spirituality. The Faith in Practice project was built on 30 years of research by Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University School of Medicine, that suggests a direct relationship between spiritual and religious involvement and human health. 
 
“Caring for the spiritual needs of patients dealing with an ailment can be influential as it pertains to their psychological health and their ability to manage the situation at hand,” said Koenig. “There is a tremendous number of patients who are at least open to discussing their spiritual needs with their physician, and we are seeking to find greater understanding of physicians’ willingness and satisfaction in engaging patients on this topic.”     
 
After extensive analysis, the results from the Faith in Practice study are expected to be released in 2017.
 
About Florida Hospital East Florida Region
A member of Adventist Health System, Florida Hospital’s mission is to extend the healing ministry of Christ. Encompassing six Florida Hospitals in Volusia and Flagler counties, the Florida Hospital East Florida Region is the largest hospital system in the area, with 907 beds and more than 6,000 employees. The Florida Hospital East Florida Region includes Florida Hospital DeLand in DeLand, Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City, Florida Hospital Flagler in Palm Coast, Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach, and Florida Hospital Oceanside in Ormond Beach. In April 2016, the sixth facility was added to the Florida Hospital East Florida Region family: Florida Hospital New Smyrna (formerly Bert Fish Medical Center) in New Smyrna Beach.