Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Return on Investment & Healthcare Chaplaincy: Demonstrating a Financial Impact

by Rev. Kelsey White, BCC


Rev. White

Return on investment (ROI) is getting a lot of attention these days and not just for healthcare administrators. Chaplains, too, are seizing opportunities to learn the craft of translating their efforts into demonstrable financial benefits for healthcare systems. I recently interviewed Dr. Patti Phillips who, with her husband Dr. Jack Phillips, has been educating, designing, and innovating ROI methodology within multiple industries since the 1970s. The ROI Institute collaborates with organizations worldwide who want to concretely demonstrate success. Through their work with the United Methodist Church, the Phillipses learned about several chaplains losing their positions, motivating the couple to help change the course of chaplaincy. Patti shared with me that they truly believe their work helps “change the world” and shared more specific hopes for its impact on healthcare chaplaincy:

I really hope organizations begin to recognize the true value of chaplaincy. Chaplains help us all look at the world from an ethical and spiritual perspective – something all organizations need.”

In July of 2017, the ROI Institute hosted a conference that included healthcare chaplains from across the United States to learn about the ROI methodology. The workshop proved so successful that they designed a more specific and detailed workshop helping chaplains on more specific projects four months later. Over 20 chaplains from around the US participated and brought proposals for self-designed healthcare chaplaincy projects to implement and report the ROI within their respective healthcare systems. These projects will look at staff care, satisfaction, and much more to identify how healthcare chaplains provide financial benefit to the systems in which they work. The Phillipses shared great enthusiasm and hope for the impact of these projects on the profession.

The essential goal of the ROI methodology is to compare the costs to the benefits of a specific effort. Dr. Phillips explained that “people are getting smarter with their money” and the ROI methodology guides organizations through an economic analysis. “It’s research from an economic perspective,” she explains. ROI could help an organization explore performance improvement, quality improvement, or financial analysis of specific interventions or techniques. Dr. Phillips further shared that ROI help identify the best direction for our efforts and “asking the hard questions up front.” Many people fear that ROI may show a negative result, but nonetheless the Phillipses persistently advocate for the approach. Dr. Phillips reminded attendees at the November workshops that nothing will be perfect; her challenge for including ROI in our professional work is for chaplains to become agile and innovative.

Dr. Patti Phillips

Dr. Phillips routinely teaches doctoral students to ask tough questions up front – something chaplains do naturally. The ROI Institute will continue working with chaplains across the country; as the story of their work spreads, perhaps we will all begin to think more about how ROI can transform chaplaincy. Situating spiritual care within larger and evidence-based contexts means chaplaincy research efforts need to constantly ask one of Dr. Phillips’s favorite questions – so what? Unless we can answer this question quickly and thoroughly, we will struggle to demonstrate how we are crucial not only to the patient experience but healthcare more broadly.

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