Healthcare and the Hospital Chaplain

Roberta Springer Loewy, PhD; Erich H. Loewy, MD

Disclosures
In This Article

Abstract

Many chaplains and most chaplaincy programs in the United States -- with encouragement from their accrediting organization, the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) -- have begun to assume a more proactive stance toward patients, healthcare professionals, and healthcare facilities. Some chaplains and chaplaincy programs have begun to engage in activities that have ranged from initiating conversations with and perusing the medical records of patients who have not requested their services to proposing that they be permitted to do "spiritual assessments" on patients -- in some instances whether these patients have been explicitly informed and have agreed to this beforehand. Moreover, many chaplains and chaplaincy programs have begun to assume that chaplains are full-fledged members of the healthcare team, complete with access to patients' medical records both to gather information and to make notations of their own.

It would appear that such novel activities are being justified by a questionable set of claims and assumptions that includes: (1) the claim that chaplains have a spiritual -- as opposed to purely religious -- expertise that entitles them to interact with patients and/or significant others (even those who have not requested a chaplain) -- presumably without in the least compromising patient autonomy or the confidentiality of the patient/healthcare professional relationship; (2) the assumption that the terms "spirituality" and "religiosity" mutually entail one another; (3) the claim that the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) mandates "spiritual assessments" (which it does not); (4) the assumption that chaplains are full-fledged members of the healthcare team; and (5) the claim that chaplains must, therefore, be permitted access to patients and patients' medical records both to gather information and to make notations of their own. We consider such claims and assumptions disquieting, and suggest that it is high time we revisit the terms "chaplaincy," "healthcare professional," and "member of the healthcare team" in reassessing what our professional commitments to respect and protect the bio-psycho-social integrity of patients require.


Readers are encouraged to respond to the author at raloewy@ucdavis.edu or to Paul Blumenthal, MD, Deputy Editor of MedGenMed, for the editor's eyes only or for possible publication via email: pblumen@stanford.edu

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