Alternative therapy for pain, stress and nausea: How aromatherapy is changing the game in traditional hospital settings

Aromatherapy, considered an alternative or complementary therapy, is showing promise toward helping people with stress, anxiety, pain and post-surgery or post-procedural nausea in clinical settings.

In three projects at Parkland Health in Dallas, patients and nurses using a simple aromatherapy solution reported lower scores on pain and stress. These results suggest that aromatherapy is a viable and low-cost application for certain patient symptoms, and for overworked staff.

During a November webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Elequil Aromatabs aromatherapy from Beekley Medical®, J.D. Buchert, MSN, RN, workforce safety manager for quality and safety operations at Parkland Health, reviewed results from the three projects and shared patient and nurse insights into aromatherapy's effect. 

Four key takeaways were:

  1. Aromatherapy showed positive results in reducing stress in nurses. Stress among clinical staff skyrocketed during COVID as caregivers coped with pandemic fallout and in many cases were away from family, as they stayed at hotels or in their basements to protect loved ones from exposure. 

Using self-adhesive aromatabs that nurses could affix to their clothing, Parkland's "Code Purple" project found that aromatherapy provided a 37 percent reduction in stress levels, from 6 out of 10 to 3.8 out of 10. And 91 percent of staff said they would recommend aromatherapy for managing stress. "It was an incredible feeling, to share this with our leadership and say this is something we can use to help our staff," Mr. Buchert said.

  1. Aromatherapy also had a positive impact on pain in post-operative and post-procedural patients. Compared with a control group, pain scores among those who had complementary aromatherapy were lower by between 25 and 33 percent on days one through three post-admission. And post-intervention, pain scores were lower by 37 percent. "We also found out from listening to the floor staff that these patients were sleeping better and their aggression or agitation was not as noticeable," Mr. Buchert said, noting this was important given the rise in aggression toward clinical staff. 

In numbers that likely would reflect well on patient satisfaction scores, 90 percent of patients reported that aromatherapy made them feel a "little" to a "lot" better and 65 percent said that receiving aromatherapy helped them feel like Parkland cared about their well-being "a lot." 

  1. Patient experience with nausea and vomiting was improved for post-procedural and post-operative patients. Mr. Buchert said he did not yet have numbers from statisticians on control groups for this project, but that the patient experience results were promising. In the monitored anesthesia care group, 88 percent of patients reported that aromatherapy improved their experience, and 82 percent of general anesthesia patients said the same.
  1. Aromatherapy represents a low-cost complementary therapy. Mr. Buchert said that all three studies were conducted for less than $12,000. "The [cost of] aromatherapy broken down to the individual was less than $2 each," he said. "And now we're seeing some of our floors ordering it and using it."

Aromatherapy offers a promising complement to traditional drugs that can treat pain, stress and nausea, offering a low-cost and low-side effect option for patients and over-stressed healthcare workers.

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