Reducing Stress Decreases Health Care Utilization

James E. Stahl, MD Senior Scientist Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School MGH Institute for Technology Assessment

Dr. James E. Stahl Interview with:
James E. Stahl, MD
Senior Scientist
Assistant Professor of Medicine,
Harvard Medical School
MGH Institute for Technology Assessment

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Stahl: Poor psychological and physical resilience in response to stress drives a great deal of health care utilization. Mind-body interventions can reduce stress and build resiliency. Over the last few decades we have seen substantial evidence that evoking the relaxation response helps the heart, blood pressure, reduces inflammation and creates changes all the way down to the epigenetic level. We have not until now had a broad look at the effect at the health systems level. The rationale for this study is therefore to estimate the effect of mind-body interventions on healthcare utilization.

The main findings are that looking at a broad population these tools, and specifically the relaxation response and resiliency training offered at the BHI, results in real world reductions in health care utilization.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Stahl: Stress worsens health and increases the demand for health care. The current fee-for service model asks clinicians to respond by seeing more and more people in less and less time resulting in poorer care for patients and physician burnout – a vicious cycle. When people invoke the RR, they are less stressed and their bodies are functioning better. This results in less demand for health care which means clinicians can also can spend more time with their patients providing better care keeping their patients healthier – a virtuous cycle.

Reduced stress results in greater wellness which in turn reduces the demand on healthcare resources.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Stahl: We need to conduct prospective controlled multi-centered studies to help us understand where, under what circumstances and in what populations these programs work best – to help us keep improving the care we can provide.


James E. Stahl et al. Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization. PLOS ONE, October 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140212

James E. Stahl, MD (2015). Reducing Stress Decreases Health Care Utilization 

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