In recent years, and particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic, tele- health has been rapidly introduced into U.S. healthcare institutions. While preliminary data and best practices are beginning to emerge, it remains unclear how chaplains are responding to this develop- ment in practice. Consequently, professional organizations have tended to lag behind the changing demands of increasingly digital professional environments.
This article addresses this gap by present- ing three case studies of U.S. healthcare settings where chaplains have become an integral component of telehealth infrastructure: the Mercy system, Ascension Health, and the Veteran’s Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Based on interviews with chaplains and directors of chaplaincy departments, it shows how the ‘telechaplains’ at these institutions have adapted to the introduction of telehealth across the continuum of care, and dis- cusses the legal, economic, practical and theological challenges and hopes reported in each case.
Telechaplaincy is the use of telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver religious/spiritual care. It has been used for decades, but chaplains’ understanding of telehealth lags behind other disciplines. The purpose of this study was to describe the use of telechaplaincy in the United States and chaplains’ perceptions of the practice. Researchers surveyed chaplains through chaplain-certifying-body email-listservs, then conducted in-depth interviews with 36 participants identified through maximum variation sampling.
Quantitative analysis and qualitative, thematic analysis were conducted. Quantitative results show that in 2019, approximately half of surveyed chaplains performed telechaplaincy. Rural chaplains were more likely to have practiced. Chaplains who had not practiced were more willing to try if they believed it was effective at meeting religious/spiritual needs. Qualitative findings describe chaplains’ perceptions of strengths, weaknesses, and best practices.