Dogs, Coloring Lower Stress in Emergency Department Workers

From Physicians Briefing, April, 2020

In a prospective trial, five minutes spent coloring or with therapy dogs lowered provider cortisol levels

FRIDAY, April 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Taking a short break to interact with therapy dogs or color mandalas decreases stress levels in emergency medicine providers, according to a study published online April 7 in Academic Emergency Medicine.

Jeffrey A. Kline, M.D., from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues compared the impact of a five-minute midshift break to interact with a therapy dog versus a similar break to color a mandala versus no intervention on the stress levels of physicians and nurses at a single emergency department. The researchers assessed self-reported stress levels with a visual analog scale (VAS; 0 to 100 mm) and measured cortisol levels in saliva samples collected before, during, and after each provider’s shift.

The researchers found that among 122 providers, there were no differences in VAS at the beginning of shifts. Midshift coloring increased VAS and interaction with dogs decreased VAS at the end of shifts, while controls remained unchanged (24.5, 13.6, and 20 mm, respectively). In all groups, salivary cortisol levels were highest at the start of shifts; however, cortisol levels were lower for both intervention groups compared with controls at the end of the shifts.

“Many health care workers and laypersons believe that dog-assisted support can improve emotional well-being in the health care setting, but little hard data exist to scientifically evaluate this belief, especially in emergency care,” Kline said in a statement. “We provide novel data to suggest that emergency care providers enjoyed seeing a dog on shift, and received a small benefit in stress reduction after the interaction.”

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