Healing partnerships: Meds & mindfulness


As society increasingly embraces a holistic approach to health, industry, HCPs and pharmacists are moving away from treating the symptoms, focussing instead on the whole person.

The AbbVie habit

AbbVie has created a series of mindfulness podcasts for blood cancer patients to support people living with these diseases and their partners or carers.

Together with mindfulness expert Dr Caroline Hoffman, AbbVie developed a series of podcast recordings with support from the UK’s leading blood cancer charities, including Leukaemia CARE, the Lymphoma Association, CLL Support Association and Bloodwise.

They were created in response to the growing body of research which demonstrates the negative psychological impact of blood cancers on patients, including depression, concerns about body image, relationships with others, loss of self-esteem, isolation and financial stress. These mindfulness podcasts aim to help alleviate the emotional stress felt by those living with blood cancers and improve their overall well-being.

Head of Campaigns and Advocacy at Leukaemia CARE, Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, said: “The emotional and psychological impact of a leukaemia diagnosis is often overlooked. It’s easy to fixate on an issue and lose sight of the bigger picture of how it’s affecting you, so it is important that anybody affected by a leukaemia diagnosis takes time to reflect on their wider thoughts. Mindfulness offers a way of doing this.”

There are three modules to the podcasts: mindfulness of the breath; mindfulness of the soles of the feet, and mindfulness of the body.

“You may have recently been diagnosed with a blood cancer or be waiting to see if or how your condition progresses. You may be undergoing tests or treatments, or perhaps you are in remission,” explains Dr Hoffman. “When you practice mindfulness, you are training your brain into positive habits of coping, and responding to the many stressful events that may be happening in your life.”

Social prescribing

Social prescribing is an innovative, personalised approach to health that enables GPs and other frontline HCPs to work with patients taking into account their social, emotional and practical needs to find solutions to their health problems, often using services provided by the voluntary and community sector. The growing social prescription movement has clear benefits for individual patients, potentially reducing demand on the NHS, particularly in primary care services.

Dr William Bird MBE set up Intelligent Health in February 2010 with the vision of transforming the health of millions across the UK through innovative initiatives to get people moving. As a GP, he set up the Health Walk scheme in April 1996, followed by the Green Gym one year later, then the Beat the Street programme, which has encouraged half-a-million people across the world to get moving and improve their health.

“Our current healthcare system tackles the rise in long-term conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression and dementia. We need to move to the cause of these illnesses and tackle the underlying problems of loneliness, disconnection with the natural environment and a lack of purpose,” he says.
“In order to transform health and inequalities we are moving to a system where social prescribing becomes a norm. This can save our NHS and help build happier, healthier, more connected communities where we would all want to live.”

Going digital

The so-called ‘social network for health’, HealthUnlocked, has created a ‘social prescribing tool’ which harnesses the power of technology to improve patient outcomes beyond the pill. This digital social prescription tool, integrated into the clinical system EMIS Web, allows GPs to prescribe information, services and online support.

“Social prescriptions are a new way of approaching the management of chronic health conditions in primary care. By signposting non-medical services and resources we can empower people to engage themselves in their health and lifestyle,” explains HealthUnlocked’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Matt Jameson Evans. “Using our technology we have been able to incorporate the peer support already improving outcomes in online HealthUnlocked communities, and bring it together with voluntary and CCG services. By doing so we can offer a digital version of social prescription to GPs that they find easy to use during the consultation, and their patients find beneficial.”

Initially live in two GP practices, the technology will be rolled out across practices in North East London as part of a partnership between Innovation Test Bed, Care City and HealthUnlocked.

“Over the past year we have seen a significant rise in practices looking to implement this and people actively looking for these type of resources,” says Dr Jameson Evans. “Social prescription in this form may be a relatively new concept, but by further enabling and embracing the technology that does it, we have the potential to give people the tools for a better quality of life, reduce reliance on medications, lessen use of GPs and A&E and radically rethink how we manage chronic health conditions.”

Here & Now

Novartis’ Here & Now campaign is a pan-European advanced breast cancer (ABC) awareness initiative from Novartis Oncology. The project aims to raise awareness of ABC, uncover new insights into its impact and support those living with the disease across Europe, through ‘a series of creative and thought-provoking activities’. This includes a ‘Mindfulness patient resource’, a guide for ABC patients who suffer from depression and emotional stress resulting from their illness.

Here & Now signed up international mindfulness coach, Greg Burdulis, to develop a mindfulness resource that could psychologically and emotionally support women living with ABC. The mindfulness guide consists of five modules that use mindfulness and motivational messages to develop skills: calm, self-compassion, gratitude, pain management and active imagination.

Each exercise along with its introduction lasts 15 to 20 minutes and can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet.

Community minded

Jane Devenish, NHS Standards and Services Pharmacist, Well Pharmacy

Community pharmacy also plays a vital role in this more balanced approach to healthcare. Jane Devenish, at Well, says that community pharmacists have the opportunity to have a different relationship with their patients, one that supports the patient to make small changes that can make a big difference to their health.

“Person-centred care is one of the GPhC standards, recognising that improving what matters to the patient is the most important health outcome, and this usually can’t be done by medication alone,” says Jane.

It’s the accessible ‘local touch’ that enables community pharmacy to offer more than a prescription service. “Pharmacists and technicians who work in the community have great links with other organisations in their locality, directing people through the complex network of health and social care,” explains Jane. “Increasingly, this includes charity and social care groups, such as choirs, to improve breathing, or groups for people with Parkinson’s disease or dementia.”

Completely healthy

Pfizer’s ‘Wellness’ section of its website also advocates the power of the ‘whole person’ approach in improving patient wellbeing, featuring tips and advice on social connectedness.

The company offers patients a wealth of information on how to promote complete wellness by adopting a wide-ranging approach to health, including connecting with others, trying new experiences, staying active, tackling insomnia, cultivating healthy sleep habits, eating well and mindfulness techniques.

Needle work

Ian Rubenstein, GP at Eagle House Surgery in Enfield since 1984, he uses complementary techniques in addition to modern medicine when treating his patients.

I taught myself hypnosis at school and my GP trainer taught me acupuncture in 1982. I am trained in counselling and I’ve written about using placebo in medicine.

In the 1980s I used hypnosis during my regular consultations and I was also clinical hypnotist for the Whittington Hospital cognitive behavioural therapy pain management programme.

As general practice became increasingly busy I found I had less time for hypnosis, so I decided to concentrate on using acupuncture for the relief of pain. This is popular with my patients and colleagues, and forms an important part of my current work.

My conventional practice has always been informed by my alternative interests. Sometimes these are extremely unconventional, such as when I sat in with a group of trainee psychic mediums! It all adds to the mix and keeps me engaged with my patients.

Modern medicine is very effective, but it has become more technical, less personal and many people have become disenchanted with it.

I want to encourage doctors to bring the enchantment back by marrying modern medicine with traditional practices.

Go to wearehereandnow.com Go to abbvie.co.uk/mindfulness. For further reference, check out Dr Rubenstein’s book, ‘Consulting Spirit: A Doctor’s Experience with Practical Mediumship’, available on Amazon.