WASHINGTON, DC—Nurses who teach and incorporate three integrative modalities—healing touch, guided imagery, and massage—into patient care can improve symptomatology and promote self-care, while adding to their nursing intervention toolbox, a study presented at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 38th Annual Congress outlined.

“Holistic nursing measures play an increasingly important role in the control of symptoms associated with cancer treatments/hospitalizations,” noted Marilyn L. Haas, PhD, RN, CNS, ANP-BC, of Mission Hospital in Cleveland, OH.

Defined by the American Association of Holistic Nurses as “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal,” holistic nursing and holistic nurses “recognize the interconnectedness to health and illness, striving to facilitate healing through traditional and complementary nursing modalities/interventions,” Haas pointed out. This includes offering adjunctive, effective, and evidence-based techniques to treat symptoms of cancer and related treatments.

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Haas and colleagues initiated a pilot study to investigate the effects of four holistic nursing modalities, offered by certified holistic nurses, on the parasympathetic nervous system of oncology patients. The study also sought to identify which of the modalities patients would select during hospitalization or radiation treatments; examine changes in physiological vital sign measurements (blood pressure/pulse/respiratory rate), and correlate patient-reported evaluation of anxiety, nausea, and pain with the modalities received.

Physicians and nurses in the hospital/radiation therapy department offered patients holistic nursing consults. Patients could select any or all of the four modalities: healing touch, guided imagery, aromatherapy, and/or massage. Holistic nurses obtained vital signs and asked patients to evaluate three potential symptoms—anxiety, nausea, pain—both before beginning the modality and at completion.

A convenient sample of 442 patients participated in the study; the majority were female (68%) and white (85%). Of the participants, 66% selected healing touch, followed by guided imagery, 23%, and hand/foot massage, 21%. Only 8% chose aromatherapy.

After receiving the interventions, “statistically significant drops in physiological vital sign measurements were observed with each modality,” Haas reported. The P-value for each was <0.01 except for aromatherapy (diastolic blood press, P=0.49). “Changes in self-reported improvement in anxiety, nausea, and pain were statistically significant (P<0.01), except aromatherapy (P=0.08 for nausea).”

Haas concluded that a growing body of scientific evidence supports integrative nursing modalities in oncology, “thus providing opportunities for nurses to engage/support patients at a higher level of care,” including offering “therapies with confidence to improve patient care.”