Evidence-based scope of practice for spiritual care

Categories: Education.

The recommendations build on HCCN’s release last month of the first comprehensive evidence-based quality indicators for spiritual care, and suggested metrics and measures for each. 

The 18 indicators include reducing spiritual distress, increasing client satisfaction and facilitating meaning-making for clients and family members.

With the quality indicators as a reference point, the new document describes a scope of practice and associated competencies that should be attained by all professional healthcare chaplains. 

The scope of practice articulates how chaplains can help their organisations meet these indicators and “effectively and reliably produce quality spiritual care,” according to the document.

While chaplains are considered the spiritual care specialists in healthcare settings, the emergence of the competencies impacts overall spiritual care and other disciplines, and, ultimately, patients and their families.

Both new documents reflect HCCN’s continuing efforts to fill gaps in the delivery of spiritual care, increase the integration of professional chaplaincy on healthcare teams, and raise the overall level of care these teams provide. 

They were developed by separate consensus panels composed of prominent experts in spiritual care, palliative care and other disciplines from the US and abroad.

“These long-awaited and robust tools work in tandem to move forward the field of spiritual care and professional chaplaincy,” said Rev. Eric J. Hall, HCCN’s president and CEO. 

“They send a loud message about how spiritual care can be fully integrated into healthcare, and provide the path for administrators, clinical teams, spiritual care providers and others to seamlessly achieve that goal.”

Representing its potential impact, one quality indicator calls for all clients to be offered the opportunity to have a discussion of religious/spiritual concerns. 

The scope of practice for that indicator requires that the chaplain “supports and advocates for the establishment of timely and documented spiritual screening to discover and refer clients for discussion of religious/spiritual concerns; and provides timely response to all referrals and facilitates discussions of religious/spiritual concerns.”

There is a growing body of research showing patients’ desire for spiritual care when they are ill or dying, and the impact of such support on important medical outcomes, costs, and the patient experience. 

Spiritual care is a vital component of whole person care, and is increasingly being incorporated into palliative and hospice care as well as into treatment plans for various diseases.

“These guidelines provide a framework for consistent, evidence-based care that is both deeply human and compassionate,” said Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., an associate professor at Arizona State University specialising in traumatic death, and a member of the scope of practice panel.

The panel said it is intended that the scope of practice “will invite and inform the conversations around changes to chaplaincy education and training and become the basis for certification and credentialing processes with the ultimate goal of providing care recipients internationally with demonstrably reliable, high quality care to help meet their spiritual needs and support their spiritual strengths.”

The panel said while the document applies to all professional healthcare chaplains, investigation should continue on the utility of competencies for different levels of practice and different specialty settings. In addition, as the list of quality indicators expands over time, the scope of practice will need to expand.

For the complete scope of practice document, as well as the quality indicators document, you can visit the HealthCare Chaplaincy website

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