Practising relaxation-response techniques, such as meditation, yoga and prayer, could reduce the need for health care services by 43 per cent, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that eliciting the relaxation response — a physiologic state of deep rest — relieves stress and anxiety, and also affects physiologic factors such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption.
The study, based at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Institute for Technology Assessment and the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI), found that individuals in the relaxation-response programme used fewer health care services in the year after their participation than in the preceding year. “Our study’s primary finding is that programmes that train patients to elicit the relaxation response — specifically those taught at the BHI — can also dramatically reduce health care utilisation,” said James E Stahl of the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment, who led the study.
“These programmes promote wellness and, in our environment of constrained health care resources, could potentially ease the burden on our health delivery systems at minimal cost and at no real risk,” Stahl said, who is now at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre. The relaxation response is elicited by practices including meditation, deep breathing, and prayer, and has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of stress-related disorders ranging from anxiety to hypertension. To analyse the potential impact of mind-body interventions like the relaxation response on use of health care services, the researchers examined information available through the Research Patient Data Registry (RPDR) of Partners HealthCare.
The research team gathered data on individuals participating in the BHI Relaxation Response Resiliency Programme (3RP) from 2006 to 2014. The programme combined elicitation of the relaxation response with social support, cognitive-skills training, and positive psychology designed to build resiliency.
Data regarding more than 4,400 3RP participants’ use of Partners system services in the years before and after their participation was compared with information from a demographically matched control group of almost 13,150 Partners patients over a similar two-year period. Based on the number of health care encounters in the studied period, which included interactions in any setting — imaging studies, lab tests, and procedures — the 3RP
participants had an average reduction of 43 per cent in their use of health care services in the year after their participation.