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Take advantage of a patient’s spirituality if you know it’s important to them, says Mary Amanda Dew, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the cardiothoracic division.
Research shows a patient’s faith can help buffer the emotional toll that chronic disease can take. In turn, the boost can lead to better outcomes. In addition, a patient’s spirituality may also increase the number of contacts he or she has outside the home.
"Many times health care professionals are uncomfortable or don’t want to impose their views on patients," she says. "But allowing patients to talk about it can be important."
It may be as simple as asking patients during an office visit if they have any involvement with a religious group.
"It will be clear if a patient doesn’t have it. But if they do, I think health care people can use that as another tool to keep involvement up," she says.
A patient involved with a church or synagogue may have friends there who can help to look after them, run errands, and just provide ways to stay involved in the community. They may tell you they can no longer attend services because of their condition, and that could be a clue to look out for depression.
Patients may mention, in passing, that they have people praying for them and that may be just the entry point needed to get patients to tell you more.