Improving Patient Outcomes with Guided Imagery


When a health care provider cures a disease or heals an injury, that’s an obvious success. But other health improvements are more subtle or harder to measure.

That’s why health care organizations are increasingly measuring their effectiveness in terms of patient outcomes – i.e., the results of the care delivered to individual patients.


These are a few common examples of how they quantify those results:

  • Decreased or eliminated pain
  • Reduced use of opioids
  • Better sleep while hospitalized
  • Faster recovery and a comfortable return home
  • Lower patient anxiety
  • Less staff burnout

By monitoring and tracking these outcomes, hospitals and other health care organizations can evaluate health care quality and patient satisfaction and identify ways to improve them. And there’s considerable evidence that guided imagery can make a significant difference in several key outcomes:

Pain and opioid use

Studies show that more than 80% of patients’ postoperative pain is inadequately managed, and that poorly controlled pain is associated with slower recovery, longer opioid use, and higher healthcare costs. No wonder patients say they want to learn strategies that help them cope better with pain! So it’s worth noting that in a pain reduction study, one in three patients experienced a statistically significant reduction in the intensity of pain from using guided imagery.

Faster recovery time

Being in the hospital is inherently stressful – which research shows delays healing. In fact, stroke patients rehabilitate faster at home, and there’s evidence that the “home hospital” model of remote monitoring and care speeds recovery and reduces readmission rates for adults with a wide variety of acute illnesses. In one study, patients who listened to relaxation and guided imagery audios from three days before surgery until seven days afterwards experienced less pain and produced higher levels of the hormones that help repair cells.

Better sleep while in the hospital

Up to 60% of adults have some level of insomnia, but hospitals are one of the hardest places to get the restful sleep people need to heal. They’re anxious about their conditions and care. They’re in pain. They’re constantly being disturbed for tests and vital signs. However, a promising study has found that mindfulness meditation measurably helps patients get to sleep faster, wake up less often in the night, and feel energized and refreshed in the morning – all of which reduce their anxiety and depression and improve their sense of well-being.

Staff burnout

When patients are anxious and in pain, they use the call button more often, which makes staff less efficient and more likely to experience burnout. Since quality of care depends enormously on the people delivering it, improving patients’ coping skills with tools like guided imagery also reduces the pressure on nurses, nursing assistants, and other staffers. As a bonus, staff themselves can take advantage of these tools to manage their own stress, boost their energy, and reduce the fatigue and burnout that lead to absenteeism. Research actually shows that among employees on stress-related sick leave, those who used guided imagery returned to work faster with a greater sense of well-being and less mood disturbance and physical distress.

Additional benefits

Guided imagery audios may actually be more cost-effective than prescription drugs. Studies show that relaxed patients heal faster, require less medication, and can go home sooner. This helps reduce the costs of hospitalization, not just for them, but for their employers and insurance providers.

With 29% of health care consumers saying they want their health systems to provide unique benefits they can’t find elsewhere, offering guided imagery can be a powerful tool to increase patient satisfaction and staff productivity – especially if you offer it in ways that are easy to access anytime and anywhere.