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Physician’s Mindfulness Skills Improve Care for Practitioner and Patient

Update Date: Apr 26, 2012 09:25 PM EDT

Training physicians in mindfulness meditation and communication skills can enhance the quality of primary care for both providers and their patients, according to a new study.  

As ways to improve primary care, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers also recommend promoting a sense of community among physicians and providing time to physicians for personal growth. Medical education can better support self-awareness programs for trainees while also promoting role models—preceptors and attending physicians—who exemplify mindful practice in action, they wrote.

“Programs focused on personal awareness and self-development are only part of the solution,” said the authors. “Our health care delivery systems must implement systematic change at the practice level to create an environment that supports mindful practice, encourages transparent and clear communication among clinicians, staff, patients, and families, and reduces professional isolation.”

The study, which was published online this week in the journal Academic Medicine, is a follow-up to a study by the researchers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009. That study showed that mindfulness meditation and communication training can alleviate physicians' psychological distress and burnout and can improve their well-being.

Seventy physicians from the Rochester, N.Y., area were involved in the initial study. They participated in training that involved eight intensive weekly sessions that were 2 ½ hours long, an all-day session and a maintenance phase of 10 monthly 2 ½-hour sessions.

For the new report, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 20 of the physicians who participated in the mindfulness training program.

For 75 percent of the interviewed physicians, sharing personal experiences from medical practice with colleagues was one of the most meaningful outcomes of the program. And sixty percent of interviewees reported that learning mindfulness skills improved their capacity to listen more attentively and respond more effectively to others at work and home. It was also noticeable that more than half of the participants acknowledged having increased self-awareness and better ability to respond non-judgmentally during personal or professional conversations.

The researchers have developed and implemented required mindful practice curricula for medical students and residents at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. They also are studying the effects of an intensive, four-day residential course for physicians. 

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