Can meditation lower the rate of hospital-acquired infections?

Preventable infections contracted during hospital stays kill as many Americans as AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined, according to a new study by Tufts on unnecessary deaths.

Although hospitals follow recommended guidelines to reduce hospital-acquired infections, a Washington Post columnist says they will never work until healthcare providers try another approach: Mindful meditation.

"Guidelines will never succeed unless our healthcare providers are given an environment to foster concentration and focus, to minimize avoidable errors," says Melinda Ring, medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. 

Mindfulness is the "purposeful and nonjudgmental attentiveness to one's own experience, thoughts and feelings," according to a 2013 study on physician mindfulness published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Meditation can help healthcare providers keep a "moment-by-moment awareness [of] thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment," Ring says. This increased mindfulness could improve decision-making and overall quality of care, potentially lowering the infection rate.

"Getting our medical professions to slow down and pay attention can have a big impact on patient safety--and their own lives as well," says Ring.

Patients benefit in other ways as well. Psychological support from mindful nurses has been shown to decrease patient pain and stress during hospital procedures, FierceHealthcare has reported. Patients who received mindfulness intervention with nurses telling them to imagine a safe place during cardiac ablation report they experienced less pain than those who received no mindfulness intervention.

To learn more:
- read Ring's article
- check out the Tufts study (.pdf)