But even Dr. Nerurkar says she was surprised by the findings of a new study she co-authored, published today in The Archives of Internal Medicine. She and her colleagues found that one in 30 Americans — that’s about 6.4 million people — were referred for some kind of mind-body therapy (yoga, meditation, tai chi, relaxation, deep breathing or guided imagery, for instance) by their doctor or another health care provider.
“One in 30, that’s huge to me,” Nerurkar said. “When you think of a yoga class of 30 people, that means one has been referred by their health care provider. We were not expecting this number.”
What does it mean when even physicians are sending their patients off to do some deep breathing? Well, she said, it could mean these types of therapies — which it seems everyone is doing on their own, without a doctor’s approval, or even knowledge — are becoming more widely accepted and solidly mainstream.
The study also found that the patients who were referred by providers to these “alternative” therapies tended to be sicker, with higher co-morbidities and more heavily reliant on the health care system overall. This suggests that providers may be considering the mind-body therapies as a “last resort” for patients after other, more traditional approaches had failed, Nerurkar said.
People who had an encounter with a mental health professional and people with anxiety were also more likely to use provider-recommended mind-body therapies, the study found.
Already, about 41 million Americans use some type of mind-body therapy, and studies have shown this approach to be effective in certain areas, for instance, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia and even in some forms of cardiac disease. But Nerurkar and her colleagues were interested in finding out whether physicians were actually referring patients to get these types of treatments. “For so long, it’s all been patient-driven,” Nerurkar said. Continue reading