Doctors Sought for Mindfulness Effort, and Its Effect on Patient Care

August 20, 2007

Primary care physicians in the Rochester area have the opportunity to take part in a class designed to help them reduce their stress levels and perhaps improve the health of their patients as well.

The class is built around a practice known as mindful communication, which draws on techniques commonly found in meditation to help people maintain an open and nonjudgmental outlook as they tackle everyday tasks. In the health care setting the approach is designed to help doctors and others to be aware of how they are feeling and how events in their own lives might be influencing how they react to patients.

Doctors say that a mindful approach helps keep them flexible to adjust to constant changes in their workday, helping them pay attention to patients and treat them with respect. It also makes it easier to keep up with the frenetic demands on their time and expertise. Nearly everyone has experienced the anger, resentment, exhaustion and impatience that seem to come hand in hand with a hectic schedule. For physicians, those emotions and feelings are compounded by the life-and-death decisions they make every day.

The class, titled “Mindful Communication: Bringing Intention, Attention and Reflection to Clinical Practice,” is designed and led by primary care physician Michael Krasner, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry and a partner in the Olsan Medical Group.

Krasner and colleagues are testing the idea that such classes can not only help physicians reduce stress but also lead to improved care for their patients. It’s the first time, as far as the Rochester team knows, that anyone has tried to measure the impact on patient care of mindfulness among doctors. The study is funded by the Boston-based Physicians Foundation for Health System Excellence, and it’s sponsored by the New York Chapter of the American College of Physicians, working together with the Monroe County Medical Society and the Rochester Individual Practice Assn.

The free class includes meetings each week in September and October, one daylong workshop, and then meetings once a month until August 2008. Forty-five area doctors will take part, learning meditation and mindfulness techniques and sharing their experiences from their practices. Doctors who take the class will receive Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.

A similar class began in April and is underway, with about 30 doctors continuing to take part.

“Many of the physicians in the current class have commented on how isolated they feel,” said Krasner. “Meeting together has provided them a sense of community; a place to share their experiences as clinicians, both their challenges and their triumphs. It’s been an eye-opener, to find out how sorely many physicians really need a collegial community of physicians.”

During the past seven years, Krasner has led nearly 600 doctors, nurses, medical students and patients in programs on mindfulness through the Monroe County Medical Society. Those programs have been geared to reducing the stress of participants and haven’t been designed to ferret out the program’s effects on patients, as the current program is designed to do.

Faculty in addition to Krasner include Ronald Epstein, M.D., professor of Family Medicine and associate dean for educational evaluation and research at the University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry; Timothy Quill, M.D., director of the Center for Ethics, Humanities, and Palliative Care at the Medical Center; Howard Beckman, M.D., medical director of RIPA; and Anthony Suchman, M.D., a national leader of a partnership-based clinical approach called relationship-centered care.

There are still a few slots left in the program starting next month. Physicians interested in enrolling in the class should visit the Web site of the Monroe County Medical Society, www.mcms.org, or e-mail Krasner, Michael_Krasner@urmc.rochester.edu, or project coordinator Mary Jane Milano, mjmilano@mcms.org.

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