Why Doctors and Nurses Should Meditate

According to recent research, mindfulness could cut down on the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

“Each year, 100,000 people die from infections they picked up in the hospital. These are completely preventable diseases, caused by human error. But they result in as many annual deaths as AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. They cost our health-care system $33 billion annually,” Melinda Ring writes in the Washington Post this month. Ring is medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

And how can mindfulness help? Ring’s research group has been studying how the positive impacts of mindfulness meditation could improve doctor and nurse decision-making and quality of care—two key elements in improving patient safety.

Ring writes:

So far, the results are good. Physicians participating in mindfulness training report enhanced personal well-being, decreased burn-out, and improved attitude toward patient-centered care. This is important, because health-care provider burnout has been significantly associated with an increase in medical errors. In particular, errors spike when doctors and nurses respond to chronic excessive stress with depersonalization of their patients—a detached, cynical attitude—and emotional exhaustion. For example, the likelihood of a surgeon self-reporting a major medical error increased by 11 percent per one point increase on a depersonalization scale…