Hospice care is designed to help terminally ill people live out their final days in as much comfort as possible. The practical application of palliative care, in most cases, focuses on alleviating physical pain. This makes sense. Severe conditions can be excruciating, and pain management is something that medical professionals and caregivers know how to do. But there are other elements involved.
Emotional, psychological, and spiritual comfort all take on vital importance at the end of life, and many people struggle to come to terms with these aspects in a way that allows them to rest easy — regardless of their physical discomfort. Faith may take precedence over everything else in these moments. No matter what a hospice patient believes, the interconnected concepts of mind, body, and soul are deeply ingrained across most cultures. When faced with their own mortality, people often feel an urgent need to get their spiritual affairs in order.
As with physical needs, hospice providers are encouraged to look at how faith plays a role in hospice care. The following represent a few best practices that may help:
Listen Carefully to the Patient
One of the best approaches in understanding the role faith plays in a patient’s life is to simply listen.
Faith is deeply personal and a bit different to everyone.
Patients and their families will generally set the tone on the sense of faith they have or don’t have during this time. With open ears and a desire to accommodate reasonable requests, hospice caregivers can just do what they do best: be present and provide.
It can help to ask questions as well. Some patients may be hesitant to speak up. Others may be more focused on physical or logistical problems, leaving them distracted from this part of their lives. It isn’t a hospice caregiver’s place to attempt to force the issue, but bringing up faith and inquiring about a patient’s wishes and needs can be a natural part of the process.
Offer Outreach to the Patient and Family
Most people don’t look to the medical community for faith-based answers. If this is a major part of their lives, they will likely already have trusted leaders, allies and institutions that they look toward for guidance. This is why simply offering outreach to local organizations is one of the best ways to help hospice patients and their loved ones. Just connecting patients with the right people who understand their faith can offer great comfort and support.
And it works both ways. Religious leaders and organizations in the community can help educate the public about the benefits and availability of hospice care.1 By building these relationships and networks, hospices can help ensure that more people get the exact type of care that will suit them best.
Avoid Assumptions About the Patient
While caretakers in some communities may be more familiar with certain faiths and customs, it is important to understand that different patients have different needs. Cultural and religious awareness is vital, and hospice caretakers are encouraged to avoid making assumptions.
For example, two different Catholics may have very different perspectives on their faith, and the same goes for those who follow Islam, Judaism, or any other religion. It is best not to assume that a current patient will share the same values as a previous patient just because they both identify with the same shared faith.
“Patients are not homogenous,” wrote Tanveer Mir, MD, in the Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America. “Patients are different, and their belief systems are different. People may be religious in their own way, but it is very important not to stereotype any religion, culture, or society.”2
Incorporating Faith into Care
At its best, hospice care can allow patients to incorporate faith into their life during their final days as much or as little as they desire. This is always easier when providers are well organized and have effective processes and systems in place to manage their care. That’s where Net Health can help. Our Optima Hospice EHR solution optimizes workflow so that everyone involved can spend less time worrying about logistics and more time providing comfort and care.
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1 Hospice News, “Engaging Faith Groups Supports Hospice Outreach,” October 17, 2019.
2 Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America Vol. 43(3), “Care of the Terminally Ill from Religious Perspectives,” 2011.