Physicians, Nurses Prioritize Mindfulness Differently

Marcia Frellick

March 20, 2019

More nurses and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) than physicians said they prescribe mindfulness interventions always or often for their patients (50% vs 40%), according to a Medscape Medical News poll.

The groups gave roughly the same endorsement of mindfulness' benefit to patients. Forty-four percent of nurses and APRNs who prescribe mindfulness interventions said the interventions always or often demonstrated benefit to patients, and 43% of physicians answered that way.

Both groups practiced mindfulness personally at double the rates they prescribed it for patients. Among physicians, 87% practice some form of mindfulness, and even more nurses (93%) practice mindfulness, which can include techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, pilates, and stretching.

The poll, published on January 2, was taken in response to reports of a study by Boston researchers that found benefit in an 8-week program of insurance-reimbursable mindfulness training in enhancing disease self-management among people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis.

Another recent study found that mindfulness techniques were useful to obese patients when added to traditional weight loss methods.

Respondents to the current poll included 245 physicians and 147 nurses/APRNs.

About half of psychiatrists and mental health specialists and family physicians were likely to prescribe mindfulness always or often. When they did prescribe them, they were likely to say the techniques always or often demonstrated benefit to patients (59% vs 46%).

The physicians, nurses, and APRNs ranked the conditions for which they prescribed mindfulness interventions similarly.

Table. Top Conditions for Which Mindfulness Interventions Were Prescribed

Condition Physicians Prescribing (%) RNs/APRNs Prescribing (%)
Anxiety 90 88
Stress 82 80
Depression 72 73
Insomnia 58 51
Chronic Pain 56 48


"A Splendid Tool"

Comments reflected the different benefits of mindfulness. An endocrinologist commented: "Stress plays a huge role in chronic disease; mindfulness is a useful evidence-based tool. I have found it personally useful."

A psychologist said: "Mindfulness is a splendid tool which when introduced into treatment has the effect of quickly calming, and refocusing clients who are in the midst of a panic attack, and otherwise reducing anxiety in suffering clients. I have used it often."

Among the various techniques of mindfulness that providers recommend, deep breathing and meditation topped the list. Physicians put meditation first, at 88%, and deep breathing at 68%. Nurses and APRNs put deep breathing first, at 89%, and meditation a close second, at 84%.

When physicians practice mindfulness personally, their favored method is meditation (64%), followed by deep breathing (53%). Nurses/APRNs responded that their methods of choice are deep breathing (75%), followed by meditation (66%).

Commenters wrote about how different methods had helped them.

Among the comments was a post from a woman who had been a registered nurse for 30 years. She wrote of her personal success with biofeedback, meditation, and other calming techniques.

"If I didn't have those coping techniques I'd never have left the house to drive again after I was hit head on," she wrote. "I wish insurance would cover it and more [practitioners] would do this and reconsider always giving medicine. Thank God for these skills in my life."

Medscape Medical News previously reported results from a study that found that mindfulness was beneficial for menopausal women. The study of more than 1700 women found that greater mindfulness correlated with lower stress and lower burden of menopausal symptoms.

Another study reported mindfulness' benefits in reducing anxiety of medical students.

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