Why Fairview, Mayo Believe Aromatherapy Has A Flowery Future In Health Care
“Breathe in like you’re smelling a flower and blow out like you’re blowing a candle.”
Sandy McGurran, a social work and care management coordinator for Fairview’s Home Care and Hospice department, uses this example each time she instructs the hospital’s staff on aromatherapy. “So far, I’ve trained over 700 of our staff,” she said, particularly noting the treatment’s popularity among hospice and home care nurses.
The practice of inhaling essential oils to stave off feelings of pain and nausea has been around for thousands of years. Yet at Fairview, the use of aromatherapy began only three years ago.
For those first two years, Fairview, which operates 37 clinics around the Twin Cities area, stuck to two individual scents: lavender and peppermint.
According to McGurran, lavender came in handy particularly for easing tension and digestive issues, both of which are common symptoms of chemotherapy recipients. Peppermint, on the other hand, became a popular treatment for memory loss patients, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s, as the scent is said to sharpen one’s focus.
However, McGurran strongly believes aromatherapy isn’t solely for the chronically ill.
“Even students are using peppermints for standardized testing because it helps them hone in and focus,” she added. “So that’s even a good one to have at your desk. Instead of that 3 o’clock coffee,” she said with several sniffs, “use peppermint.”
To reach a wider audience, Fairview began selling inhalation sticks and bottles of essential oils at its clinics last week. The products were made through a collaboration with Healing Alchemy, a company specializing in essential oils and clinical aromatherapy products. Previously, the Minneapolis-based business had developed similar products for Intelligent Nutrients and the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota.
Fairview hopes by introducing aromatherapy products to its store shelves, curious patients will ultimately give the practice a try. “This is integrative; it is something you weave in and is complementary with your doctor’s plan,” McGurran said. “At the moment this is all just a recommendation, but I’d love to get to the point where it’s covered by insurance.”
For now, Fairview is aiming to keep its essential oil bottles and inhalers affordable. McGurran points out that at $6 for a bottle and $7 for an inhalation tube, the price runs lower than some nausea medications that cost up to $30 a pill.
Moreover, depending on the rate of consumption, both aromatherapy products are said to last roughly 6 months and are packed with enough oil to provide for hundreds of sessions. “So this thing that costs pennies comparatively is supporting people through their therapies,” added McGurran.
The big question: does it work?
At the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, more than 2,000 nurses and physicians have been trained in the use of aromatherapy as a treatment plan.
“Often we ask patients from zero to ten if they found it beneficial,” said Sue Cutschall, an integrative health specialist at Mayo. “More often than not they will say there are some benefits, but I have had people say it doesn’t seem to have any effect on them.”
Typically, Mayo’s use of aromatherapy has been in conjunction with medication. With no known side effects to inhaling scents, Cutschall finds the practice has helped curb the adverse side effects felt from pain medications.
“Oftentimes, you might start with the least invasive type of modality like aromatherapy and then move on to medications,” she noted. “But if somebody came in with significant pain from an accident or surgery, we’d probably be giving them pain medication before thinking about what else we could do to complement their pain relief.”
At Fairview, McGurran has been recording clinician observations of aromatherapy patients. Taking the same one-to-ten scale of measurement, McGurran found that 95 percent of the patients said their anxiety was reduced, 98 percent said feelings of pain diminished, and every patient said their nausea lessened. Those findings, McGurran pointed out, come from a more than 300 patient pool of aromatherapy recipients.
“These people with chronic diseases are so in need of support,” she said, “so nobody has ever said ‘no way, you are kind of kooky. This is way out there.’”
The treatment option has become so widely accepted that even Fairview’s caregivers are inhaling the oils to curtail on-the-job stress.
Additionally, Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s premier health organization, believes patient treatment plans in the future will have significantly more olfactory involvement than they do now.
“While similar to meds, both don’t take the pain away immediately,” Cutschall said, “but I think we need to start looking at what are the multiple ways in which we can help our patients.”