In a new study, researchers found that patients with chronic pain and depression who participated in medical group visits to learn mindfulness techniques were able to reduce their use of pain medications and made fewer emergency room visits.
The research was conducted by a team at UMass Medical School.
The team compared the effectiveness of an integrative medical group visit intervention with a control group in reducing pain and depressive symptoms for patients with chronic pain.
The study included 159 patients with chronic pain and depression symptoms receiving care at three health clinics serving low-income neighborhoods.
Patients were randomized to join the 10-week group intervention or visit their primary care provider once during the study period.
Especially valuable for low-income patients for whom accessing complementary therapies may be limited, integrative medical groups are an innovative approach to primary care in which up to 15 patients meet with a primary care clinician.
After each patient is seen individually, the entire group participates in educational activities designed to help reduce pain through mindfulness and yoga.
Participants also learn lifestyle practices such as healthy eating and movement that can help ameliorate chronic conditions. Participants agree to share health information in the group setting.
Patients completed surveys when the study began, nine weeks later and 21 weeks later. The research team analyzed the patients’ health records.
The team found overall, the integrative medical group visit intervention was not more effective than usual care at reducing depressive symptoms.
It was, however, found to reduce pain and depression in those that attended at least half the visits.
Compared with the controls, patients in the group intervention were less likely to use pain medication at the end of the study, showed a greater increase in mental health-related quality of life at the end of the study and had a greater decrease in the emergency department visits when weekly group visits ended.
The team says a lot of the care can happen within the supportive nature of a group with shared experiences.
The lead author of the study is integrative medicine expert Paula Gardiner, MD, MPH.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.
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