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Mindfulness app for distress relief in ICU patients after hospital discharge

14 Jun 2024 8:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Patients discharged from intensive care units (ICUs) often report persistent psychological distress. This distress can result from a combination of factors: life-threatening illness, medical procedures, the financial burden of illness and treatment, and adjustment to residual disabilities and role changes. A previous pilot study showed that post-discharge use of a mindfulness meditation mobile app could reduce average levels of psychological distress in some participants.

Cox et al. [JAMA Internal Medicine]  investigated ways to optimize their previously piloted mindfulness app by varying the number of app-based meditations and phone contact with a human therapist.

Participants were 247 ICU patients (average age=50 years; 58% male; 73% white; average ICU stay length=7 days) with moderate or higher levels of psychological distress at discharge. All participants were discharged home with free access to a mindfulness meditation smartphone app. The app offered a month-long training program containing four week-long themes. The themes covered awareness of the breath, body, thoughts and emotions, and activities of daily living, as well as cultivating kindness and compassion. 

Participants were randomly assigned to one of eight meditation groups that comprised combinations of: 1) whether the themed units were introduced by an app video or a live therapist phone call; 2) whether reported increases in symptoms were responded to by the app or a live therapist phone call; 3) whether participants engaged in an 8-to-10-minute audio-guided meditation once or twice a day. 

Psychological symptoms were assessed at baseline and at 1- and 3-months post-randomization. The primary outcome was self-reported depressive symptoms, and self-reported anxiety and PTSD symptoms were secondary outcomes. The statistical test was not a between-groups analysis but rather assessed the degree to which each of the variables—meditation frequency, live therapist vs. app introductions, and live therapist vs. app response to symptoms—affected outcomes across groups.

The sample viewed on average 71% of the total app content, 89% of the sample were still actively viewing content by the fourth week, and 74% of the sample completed the 3-month follow-up assessment. All groups showed clinically meaningful improvement in depression and PTSD symptoms at 1- and 3-month follow-up.

The group meditating twice daily showed significantly more improved depression scores (from 10.4 to 5.6 points) than the group meditating once daily (from 10.4 to 7.0 points). Retention and outcomes weren’t improved in groups having live therapists introduce themes or respond to symptoms increases by telephone. 

The study shows discharged ICU patients with elevated distress using a mindfulness smartphone app report decreased distress scores over time, that meditating twice daily is associated with reducing such symptoms more than meditating once daily, and that talking by phone with live therapists neither improves study retention nor distress outcomes.

The study is limited by its lack of a non-mindfulness app comparator and low rate of ICU patients agreeing to participate (47%). Further, the number of patients reporting increased distress symptoms was too low (8%) to effectively test the value of having a therapist respond to symptoms.


Cox, C. E., Gallis, J. A., Olsen, M. K., Porter, L. S., Gremore, T., Greeson, J. M., Morris, C., Moss, M., & Hough, C. L. (2024). Mobile Mindfulness Intervention for Psychological Distress Among Intensive Care Unit Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Link to study

American Mindfulness Research Association, LLC. 

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