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Quality Health Care Reform: Shouldn’t It Include Alternatives Like Prayer?

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Part of the Affordable Care Act focuses on improving the quality of health care by providing financial incentives (or, more accurately, disincentives) for hospitals, based on reducing their “readmission rates” (within 30 days after treatment and discharge) and their “patient harm” (bad things that happen to patients during and because of their hospital stay). The goal of this “Partnership for Patients” program, announced in 2011, is a 20% reduction in readmission rates and a 40% reduction in patient harm before the individual health insurance mandate kicks in on January 1, 2014.

Medicare reimbursements for hospitals with higher readmission rates and patient harm are being cut by 1% now, and that penalty will increase to 3% by 2014. Already, the folks at Medicare tell us that two out of every three hospitals evaluated by them in the U.S. failed to meet the new readmissions and patient harm standards.

…Except in Denver, where I live, and where the flagship “safety net” hospital, Denver Health – a non-profit organization that includes a 477-bed hospital and eight community primary care clinics – has found ways to comply with those standards. One third of its patients are uninsured, and another third are on Medicaid. So, they’re already used to operating on tighter budgets than some other major hospitals. But, using electronic medical records and carefully monitored protocols, as well as standard business models and practices, they have been able to lower mortality rates and reduce infections, mistakes, and redundant testing.

So much so, that they fully comply with the new standards; they have been applauded by the Department of Health and Human Services as a model for other safety-net hospitals across the country, and they’ve cut costs by $100 million in the process.

Way to go, Denver Health! Better quality care with lower costs. That’s what health care reform is supposed to be all about.

That said, what the Affordable Care Act does not yet address in its current form is society’s growing interest in what I would call non-drug-based health care solutions. Recent studies indicate that 40% of Americans spend $34 billion (out-of-pocket) on such approaches to health. Many of these modalities are practiced in addition to conventional, allopathic medical treatments. In fact, some hospitals have set up “integrative medicine” centers because of the demand from patients for these kinds of treatments.

And, some of these alternative health solutions are used instead of the traditional, drug-based model.

A 2011 study titled “National Trends in Prayer Use as a Coping Mechanism for Health Concerns: Changes From 2002 to 2007”, by Amy Wachholtz of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Usha Sambamoorthi of the West Virginia University and Morehouse School of Medicine, had this to say about one of those solutions:

“In the United States, a substantial percentage of the population uses prayer for health concerns, and this percentage signi?cantly increased in a 5-year period from 43% in 2002 to 49% in 2007. This is a substantial increase from the 13.7% who reported using spiritual healing or prayer in 1999 (Ni, Simile, & Hardy, 2002). The use of prayer by a substantial number of individuals and the increases in the rate over time have implications for clinical practice.”

In my own experience, I have found prayer – for me a mental, spiritual alignment with the Divine – to be a reliable, cost-effective, and always-available system of restoring and maintaining health. Apparently, I’m not alone.

The study also reports that “Prayer use related to health concerns is seen across multiple demographic and socioeconomic factors. Therefore, it is critical to understand how this religious/spiritual behavior has changed and how this may affect patients’ mental and physical health as another step forward in improving the quality of care.”

It seems to me it is not only important to understand how it has changed but also what it is – i.e. how it works. How do thoughts of the Divine actually affect our health? That may very well be one of the most important questions to ask in what has become a national discussion about health reform.

An early researcher and pioneer in health care reform, Mary Baker Eddy, answered that question in her book, Science & Health, with Key to the Scriptures: “Anatomy, when conceived of spiritually, is mental self-knowledge, and consists in the dissection of thoughts to discover their quality, quantity, and origin. Are thoughts divine or human? That is the important question.”

Indeed it is!

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About Peter Van Vleck

  • Ask and it will be given! Who else knows our body better than our creator, and has the ability to perform miracles?

    Our nations leaders could pray before passing legislation, or at least read the bill.