by Don Ingwerson
This blog was originally published April 8, 2013, but I wanted to take another look at the importance of “heart” in healthcare after I read the July 8, 2013 Christian Science Sentinel article titled, “A Perfect Heart.” What struck me about that article is the mention that the word heart appears more than 700 times in the KJV Bible, but it almost never references a physical organ! Clearly heart is important as a spiritual concept.
“Mindfulness Meeting This Way” proclaimed a small sign at the entrance of one of the many medical buildings on the UCLA Campus – and suddenly I felt invigorated. I was not there to attend a mindfulness meeting, but to interview the GWish (George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health) project director, Dr. Margaret Stuber, about a Templeton-funded study to promote spirituality and health in medicine and healthcare.
I was so encouraged by my first interview with Dr. Stuber over a year ago as the project was just getting under way, and we discussed prayer, shared decision-making, and accountability in patient-centered healthcare. Dr. Stuber had told me that the medical students were the hardest to convince that they were not the only decision-makers in caring for patients. So you can understand why I was so energized upon seeing the sign in this medical facility about mindfulness!
Spirituality and Health is a relatively new field in medicine and healthcare. “Historically,” says GWish project director Dr. Christina Puchalski, “healthcare in the United States was founded on spiritual values… Over the last 60 years medicine and healthcare have been challenged by the tremendous explosion of technological advances and by the reality of increasing costs. These challenges have overshadowed the primary mission of medicine and healthcare – to serve the whole person with care and compassion.” With this in mind, Dr. Puchalski feels the mission of GWish is to foster a more compassionate and caring healthcare system and restore the heart and humanity to healthcare.
While my questions to Dr. Stuber primarily focused on prayer, shared decision-making, and accountability, ideas we had discussed previously, Dr. Stuber preferred to integrate these elements into a focus on prevention and how to provide more economical and efficient healthcare. She also focused on lesser-used complementary and alternative therapies such as massage, diets, yoga, etc.
She stressed that this is the time for change in healthcare, with prevention as a major element in primary care treatment – and this effort would include elements of mindfulness. As these changes take place, she indicated that more accountability will also be included, with overall quality of patient health affecting the amount of remuneration that those who deliver services receive.
Just as the mindfulness meeting sign was the first thing I saw in the medical facility, I see spirituality included in much of the thinking of those creating new medical and healthcare curricula. As I left the interview and looked at the mindfulness meeting sign again, I was reminded that Mary Baker Eddy, 19th century health researcher and author of Science and Health, gave new meaning to spiritual needs in the area of health by advocating the use of prayer to address the needs of individuals – stressing mind, body, and spirit.
A colleague of mine in England observed, “When we stop seeing ourselves primarily as machines in need of fixing, a more holistic approach is emerging – one that celebrates a patient’s often overlooked understanding of their own needs and the best way to meet them.” If this is what mindfulness leads to, I know I will continue to feel excited and invigorated.
Article first published in Blogcritics.