Where Soul Meets Body

AnMed Health’s Chaplaincy Program Takes Advanced Care Planning Into Physician Practices

There’s something heartbreakingly tender about chaplains in hospitals. Their work is driven by utter compassion, offering an attentive ear and spiritual counsel to patients and families grappling with the most fraught decisions of life and death. 

In fact, chaplains often do quite a bit more, such as the work these spiritual advisors are doing in AnMed Health’s innovative chaplaincy program. Far from simply offering prayer near the end of a patient’s life, these religious clerics are increasingly learning how to discuss care preferences and help patients complete advanced directives, the legal documents which guide healthcare decisions in the event one becomes unconscious or too ill to communicate. Advance care planning like this is key to delivering patient-centered care, but the sensitivity of these conversations and the need to think holistically about a patient’s needs makes it something that can often require more than just medical counsel.

AnMed Health’s program takes this responsibility seriously, to the point where their Respecting Choices®-trained chaplains are now available throughout the health system, including in physician practices. 

“Because we represent a spiritual framework, patients seem to be more open to having these conversations,” said Mike Johnston, Director of Spiritual Care at AnMed Health. In the hands of physicians and nurses, such conversations tend to be reactive, rather than proactive, conversations.

“The transition from [talking] in the hospital to [talking] in the patient’s primary care office has really been beneficial, to both the patient family and the care team. It is so much easier having the discussions when the patients and families are not in crisis,” he says.

These appointments are billed under CMS’ advance care planning (ACP) codes and, in the two years since the program’s launch, AnMed Health has conducted more than 1,200 advance care planning conversations.

Now, AnMed Health’s larger Advanced Care Planning initiative is moving forward by partnering with local constituents to enhance these conversations. They plan to offer Respecting Choices training to local nursing homes, hospices and faith communities in an effort to serve the populations that need this care the most. In addition, the chaplains work with the family residency program engaging and modeling with the medical residents on the importance of having these conversations. 

Thanks to their efforts, AnMed Health is quickly becoming a model for how to implement advanced care planning initiatives that can spark widespread culture change and lead to better outcomes for patients and their families.