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Research Brief 2020 Edition

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Summary of Topics on Research and Strategies For The Future

A message from the Research Director

The 2020 Research Brief
The Healing Beyond Borders Research Committee has compiled this document with the purpose of bringing the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed literature regarding Healing Touch to major stakeholders (students, practitioners, instructors, nurses, physicians, other allied health care professionals, patients, caregivers, and the lay public) interested in this biofield therapy. Once more, in keeping with the content of the 2015 Research Brief, we are focusing our Research Brief to include only those documents that have been published in peer-reviewed journals where data can be critically evaluated by researchers who have expertise in the same or similar fields of study. The reason for this is that in our current Western model of medicine, critically evaluated research with high levels of evidence or efficacy leads to changes in how patients are diagnosed, counseled, cared for, and treated therapeutically. We as a Research Committee, as well as an organization, attempt to support an increase in the quality and quantity of Healing Touch research performed to continue to grow this base of evidence, improve the patient, caregiver, and provider experience, and shift the medical model paradigm to one that is not only more evidence-based, but also more patient-centric and heart-centered.

Incorporation of Healing Touch Research
By offering research related workshops to our members at our annual conference, providing highlights of interesting current research projects in Perspectives in Healing, offering guidance to new investigators on study design or development of their own scientific questions using the PICO research method (Patient/Population; Intervention; Comparison; Outcomes), providing language, content, and format to present Healing Touch research presentations to other stakeholders in a meaningful and easily presented format, and providing a structure/matrix whereby queried Healing Touch literature is critically evaluated and ranked, we strive to lay a strong foundation on which to evoke acceptance through evidence-based research.

Healing Touch Research Matrix
To assess the different levels of research evidence regarding Healing Touch, we have again provided a matrix of published Healing Touch research. Evidence-based practice involves conducting a systematic review of available peer-reviewed publications/literature using different databases to grade evidence in a ranked fashion. It is best to think of levels of evidence as a pyramid where the top tip, Level 1, has the smallest quantity, but includes the most quantitative, nonbiased, statistically sound assessment of evidence-based research from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of all relevant randomized, controlled trials. The further you move down the pyramid to its broad base, you are moving from individual randomized to non-randomized studies, to less quantitative, more qualitative/subjective measures that further delineate into case and cohort studies, and ultimately opinion pieces at its most broad base.

In this edition, these levels of evidence are included in a table arranged to include the reference, journal citation, type of study, sample condition, main results, and level of evidence.  We have updated our 2011 Melnyk and Fineout-Overholt reference to their 4th edition of the Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare: A Guide to Best Practice (2019). Whereas the previous version (2nd edition) had only 6 levels of evidence, we have moved to their 7-level assessment pyramid in the 4th edition, which is further defined in our brief. It is not until after Level 4, in the current table, where subtle changes are made to bring our table more current with existing levels of evidence models. While all data in our Healing Touch pyramid help support our research mission, the evidence-based studies in Levels 1 and 2 ultimately drive evidence-based practice and implement changes in practice, policy, and new standards of care.

The Importance of Healing Touch Research
As one queries existing databases for peer-reviewed literature on Healing Touch and other biofield therapies, including Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Johrei, Reconnective Healing, and Spiritist “passe” (spiritual healing), to name a few, several observations can be made. The number of papers reporting on biofield therapy research continues to increase, as well as papers representing different biofield modalities; the study populations have become more varied to include healthy individuals, as well as patients from a variety of disease sites/conditions; the study populations include more diverse populations across the globe; pediatric, young adult, and adult populations are represented; the number of cell and animal studies are beginning to increase; the outcomes are beginning to become more objective and less subjective; those conducting studies are coming from a variety of disciplines; and biofield therapies are being studied across the lifespan, from newborn to end of life.

This collective research is important for several reasons. It introduces the concept of biofield therapies to people across the world, as well as to health care providers and third-party payers who are looking for evidence-based research to drive patient care. It begins to build an expanding breadth of work in the biofield therapy research arena, which needs to be critically evaluated to provide rationale, premise, and reproducibility for scientific studies. It helps to identify gaps and unmet needs in the greater field. It points to potential mechanisms of action or provides relevant insight into study designs or specific details involving interventions that may be relevant for future research. Finally, it may provide new options to address growing issues in the health care field and world at large.

Healing Touch Priority Areas
On this last point, as the number and quality of Healing Touch research studies continues to grow, adding to our matrix of levels of evidence, Healing Touch appears to be well-poised as an intervention to address several current health care concerns: (1) the growing opioid epidemic and the mandate to hospitals by the Joint Commission to provide at least one nonpharmacological option, such as Healing Touch, to address/manage pain; (2) focusing on patient satisfaction scores at hospitals/health care practices as a means of compensation/reimbursement and implementing interventions that support a patient-centric model; (3) tackling skyrocketing medical costs and providing options to reduce costs by shortening lengths of hospital stays with interventions such as Healing Touch; and (4) implementing strategies to build resilience among those individuals and organizations that take care of sick, dying, and vulnerable populations of living beings. Research addressing these areas has begun and beginning to show efficacy, remaining an area of growing research focus. Additional areas of future Healing Touch research to pursue are included in the brief and include addressing mental health, chronic conditions and diseases, comorbidities, and cognitive dysfunction, to name a few.

In conclusion, as Research Director of Healing Beyond Borders and Chair of the Research Committee, I hope that you find this document to be of use to you, either for research purposes or as a means to educate yourself or others on the levels of evidence of Healing Touch research and its efficacy. Finally, I wish to thank all those members of the Research Committee, Dr. Mary Ann Friesen, Dr. Der-Fa Lu, Lucrezia Mangione, and Sophie Allen, who have contributed to this document by gathering and assessing literature, and to Dr. Joel Anderson, for assessing, compiling, and editing the many versions of this Research Brief. This would not have been possible without their commitment and tremendous efforts.

We thank you for your continued interest and support of Healing Touch research and ask you to join us in our quest to further conduct and lead evidence-based Healing Touch research and practice.

Suzanne M. Hess, PhD, CHTP
Research Director, Healing Beyond Borders