Posted tagged ‘wellness’

Stanford researcher explores use of meditation app to reduce physician burnout

September 28, 2017

Photo courtesy of Louise Wen

Slammed by long and unpredictable hours, heavy clinical workloads, fatigue and limited professional control, many medical residents experience stress and even burnout. And surveys indicate this burnout can seriously impact physician well-being and patient care outcomes.

How do you combat burnout? Studies show that meditation can improve well-being, but jamming one more thing into a resident’s hectic day is tough, as Louise Wen, MD, a clinical instructor at Stanford’s Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, points out. So Wen joined a team of Stanford researchers to test the effectiveness of a mindfulness app, and there work was published this summer in Academic Psychiatry.

I recently spoke with her about the pilot study.

What inspired your study?

“I experienced burnout as a resident, and meditation was a key aspect to my recovery. Growing up, I had been introduced to meditation by my family. In college, I trained to become a yoga teacher and therapist. However, once residency started, my mediation practice essentially stopped.

My low point in residency was precipitated by a HIV needle-stick injury. The month-long antiretroviral prophylactic therapy was effective, but I struggled with the medication’s side effects. My mother advised me to meditate, and afterwards, I felt like my brain had been rebooted. Surprised by the effect of such a brief intervention, I wanted to explore ways to introduce this technique to other time-strapped and stressed residents.”

Why did you use a mindfulness app?

“The gold standard for mindfulness studies is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. This eight-week course entails a two-hour group class weekly and 45 minutes of individual home practice daily, plus one full-day silent retreat. This excellent and evidence-based intervention is unfortunately not a feasible format for residents. Instead, the Headspace app on a smart phone delivers guided meditations in an efficient and accessible format.

For the study, we recruited 43 residents from general surgery, anesthesia and obstetrics and gynecology. They were asked to use the app at least two times per week for a month. The app provided 10-minute guided audio meditations, animated videos and longer focused meditations.”

How did you measure whether the app improved wellness?

“Our participating residents were asked to complete surveys measuring their stress, mindfulness and app usage — at enrollment, week 2 and week 4. We found that residents benefitted from using the app and this benefit correlated with increasing app usage.”

Are you doing any follow-up studies?

“A significant challenge of our app study was motivating people to practice the intervention. We’re now working on a study based on the concept of the popular opinion leader. We have developed a four-week, video-based curriculum for anesthesia residents. These videos feature interviews with attendings from our department, where they share their personal meditation and gratitude practices. We showed the videos to the intervention group of residents, whereas the control group watched a boring video of me saying that they should meditate. We are now analyzing the data.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

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Stanford researcher travels to Qatar to discuss how behavior changes can improve global health

January 27, 2017
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Photo courtesy of Jodi Prochaska

About 1400 health-care experts and government officials from over a 100 countries recently attended the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Doha, Qatar. WISH aims to create a global community to tackle health-care challenges, such as the global burden of autism spectrum disorder and the rise in cardiovascular disease mortality.

The summit included a Behavioral Insights Forum to investigate how new findings on behavior change can lead to better health outcomes at a lower cost. Jodi Prochaska, PhD, an associate professor of medicine with the Stanford Prevention Research Center, was a member of the behavioral insights team. We recently discussed the WISH summit and her involvement.

What was accomplished at the WISH Summit?

“The WISH meeting — in an intensely focused 2-day period — engaged and fostered collaborations among academic researchers, health professionals, public policy officials and entrepreneurs. The meeting showcased innovations that can make a difference for health-care communities globally.

The program content included nine panel forums on: accountable care, autism, cardiovascular disease, population health, health economics, precision medicine, health profession education, genomics and behavioral insights. Each collaborative panel generated a white paper centered on its particular area of expertise. In addition, there were several inspiring keynote speakers.”

Why did you get involved with the behavioral insights panel? How did you participate?

“The behavioral insights team sounded novel, and I was able to help shape the white paper and participate at the WISH meeting. Oftentimes in academic research, behavior change is siloed — you have your tobacco control experts, your nutrition experts and your physical activity experts. The WISH panel focused on bridging across behaviors to identify key principles of change at the individual, social, organizational and policy levels for supporting wellness and wellbeing. We identified case studies from around the globe and covered a range of health behaviors: exercise, diet, tobacco, cancer screening, suicide and accident prevention, medication adherence and patient safety.

For instance, the panel showcased research I am doing with the University of California, Irvine using Twitter to facilitate peer-to-peer support groups for quitting smoking, which has doubled quit rates relative to usual care. The meeting also showcased a trial to paint reference lines on the rail track in Mumbai to improve pedestrians’ ability to judge speed, which led to a 75 percent decline in trespassing deaths at the test location. Also, we discussed the success of a project to send letters to the highest antibiotic prescribers in the U.K., which resulted in 75,000 fewer doses being prescribed across 800 practices.”

What was Qatar like?

“Doha, Qatar was striking. It was modern and pristine, as well as easy and safe to navigate. The people of Qatar were hospitable and kind. During my stay, I had a chance to go in the Persian Gulf and to visit a local market with traditional food, spices and live animals.

I was thrilled to represent Stanford in Doha, Qatar and to bring back the knowledge gained and connections made for future collaborations.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Project aims to improve well-being in rural Mexican communities

September 20, 2016

san-miguel-peras_jshTo improve the health and well-being of people around the world, researchers must first understand what it means to be well and whether this has the same meaning for everyone.

A Stanford team at the Wellness Living Laboratory (WELL) is working to define and measure wellness by identifying the factors that help people maintain it and by testing new interventions. As announced earlier this week, they’re engaging thousands of participants from around the world, including the U.S., China and Taiwan, with the ultimate goal of optimizing everyone’s health and well-being.

Nicole Rodriguez, a research assistant with the Wellness Living Laboratory at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, recently extended this work to Mexico in conjunction with Stanford’s Community Health in Oaxaca program. This summer Rodriguez carried out a new research study with a team of Stanford undergraduates to explore the well-being of two impoverished, rural communities in Oaxaca, Mexico; I recently spoke with Rodriquez about her work.

How do you define “well-being”? Why is it important to study this worldwide?

“Well-being is about considering the whole person, where health extends beyond physical health to encompass emotional health, social connectedness, lifestyle behaviors and even factors like sense of purpose and creativity.

It’s important to consider what factors contribute to universal well-being — across cultures and socioeconomic gradients. Studying well-being helps us understand what people in diverse parts of the world care about the most and how they prioritize aspects of their lives and health. Understanding what motivates and drives people then allows for more targeted and efficient public health efforts.”

What inspired you to work in Oaxaca?

“I’ve been working with underserved Hispanic populations throughout Santa Clara County doing WELL research, and I was curious to learn more about the cross-cultural well-being in Latin American populations.

Seven years ago, I participated as an undergraduate in Stanford’s community health overseas program in Oaxaca with Gabriel Garcia, MD and Ann Banchoff. The class launched me on a career working to address health disparities among marginalized populations. This year, I returned as a program assistant to help build the research portion of the course. It was an honor to give back to the program and revisit the place and people that shaped my aspirations in medicine.”

What did the research group do in Oaxaca?

“We worked with a partnering non-profit organization, Niño a Niño, to carry out a project that would help the non-profit and community leaders better understand the community’s needs and priorities. Our group carried out a well-being study with 38 participants in San Miguel Peras and Pensamiento, two rural communities living in extreme poverty.

The first part of the study was an open-ended interview aimed at understanding individual perspectives and priorities surrounding well-being, which was modeled after the WELL measures process developed by Cathy Heaney, PhD. The second portion of the study incorporated the citizen science process developed by Abby King, PhD, which empowers community residents to capture the barriers and facilitators to their health and well-being — by carrying out a tablet-based environmental assessment, taking photos and recording audio narratives — and then engage in community advocacy. Lastly, we conducted WELL’s core well-being questionnaire that is being used on an international scale.

I think looking at well-being is especially important in low-resource settings because communities have to think carefully about how to allot and prioritize limited resources, people and time. Niño a Niño is going to use the data about community priorities to plan out its community-based efforts for the upcoming year.”

What was it like in these remote rural communities?

“Political protests and unrest across Oaxaca complicated the decision to bring the students to Mexico this summer. The city was generally calm while we were there, but we did face some shutdowns of public transportation, clinics and hospitals. I think it provided good exposure to how governmental issues can impact critical public services like healthcare.

The students also learned about community health fieldwork in marginalized and remote villages. After a rocky two-hour bus ride through muddy unpaved cliffs, we arrived in the village center. A group of children greeted our team to lead us to the family homes where we would carry out the interviews. Assuring us that the homes were close by, the children led us on an uphill scramble for about an hour to reach the families. We crossed rivers, slipped on fresh clay and mud, and held on to rocks and branches for balance as we worked our way up to the homes — while our young guides hopped gracefully through the paths.

In these rural impoverished settings, well-being was about meeting the basic necessities of daily life — having enough water in the rainwater catchment tank and enough food to put on the table. Whereas a lot of our Santa Clara County interviewees discussed issues like balancing work, personal life and health, the conversations in Oaxaca revolved around meeting fundamental necessities. Exploring issues of well-being in these communities helps us think about what is truly essential for health and well-being.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.


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