A national study of chaplaincy services and end-of-life outcomes

BMC Palliat Care. 2012 Jul 2;11:10. doi: 10.1186/1472-684X-11-10.


Background: Medicine has long acknowledged the role of chaplains in healthcare, but there is little research on the relationship between chaplaincy care and health outcomes. The present study examines the association between chaplaincy services and end-of-life care service choices.

Methods: HealthCare Chaplaincy purchased the AHA survey database from the American Hospital Association. The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care database was provided to HealthCare Chaplaincy by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, with the permission of Dartmouth Atlas Co-Principal Investigator Elliot S. Fisher, M.D., M.P.H. The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care is available interactively on-line at http://www.dartmouthatlas.org/. Patient data are aggregated at the hospital level in the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. IRB approval was not sought for the project because the data are available to the public through one means or another, and neither database contains data about individual patients, i.e. all the variables are measures of hospital characteristics. We combined and analyzed data from the American Hospital Association's Annual Survey and outcome data from The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care in a cross-sectional study of 3,585 hospitals. Two outcomes were examined: the percent of patients who (1) died in the hospital, and (2) were enrolled in hospice. Ordinary least squares regression was used to measure the association between the provision of chaplaincy services and each of the outcomes, controlling for six factors associated with hospital death rates.

Results and discussion: The analyses found significantly lower rates of hospital deaths (β = .04, p < .05) and higher rates of hospice enrollment (β = .06, p < .001) for patients cared for in hospitals that provided chaplaincy services compared to hospitals that did not.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that chaplaincy services may play a role in increasing hospice enrollment. This may be attributable to chaplains' assistance to patients and families in making decisions about care at the end-of-life, perhaps by aligning their values and wishes with actual treatment plans. Additional research is warranted.