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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Prescription: Mindfulness (for the physician)

Would you rather be seen by a doctor who paid attention to you, who listened to what you said during your appointment, or one who was distracted, whose mind was somewhere else, who heard the first few sentences and then made assumptions?

It's not really a question, is it?

Researchers, who've found previously that pharmacists, nurses, and physicians trained in mindfulness make fewer mistakes and experience less stress, now say they also make patients feel better -- at least about their office visits.

The New York Times reports on the findings.

“We clinicians are not always fully present for patients because our minds are always working,” said Dr. Mary Catherine Beach, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “But when we don’t listen,” failing to let patients say what they need to say or ask what they need to ask, “we end up giving explanations that are too long and complicated and responses that they don’t need or want.”
Researchers found that patients were more satisfied and more open with the more mindful clinicians, the Times reports. More mindful clinicians "tended to be more upbeat during patient interactions, more focused on the conversation and more likely to make attempts to strengthen the relationship or ferret out details of the patient’s feelings," the Times says.

Mindful doctors remained efficient, getting as much done medically for their patients as their least mindful colleagues, even though they spent more time in conversation with patients.
Less mindful clinicians, on the other hand, more frequently missed opportunities to be empathic and, in the most extreme cases, failed to pay attention at all, responding, for example, to a patient’s description of waking up in the middle of the night crying in pain with a question about a flu shot.
And speaking of flu shots, get one. But keep in mind a study from 2012 that found that meditation can help fight colds and flu. The study, which followed volunteers through a winter cold season, from September through May, found that meditators missed 76 percent fewer days of work than nonmeditators. And the average duration of colds and respiratory infections was lower among meditators -- five days, compared to eight.