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A Beautiful Form of Distraction: Teaching Hospitals Bring Live Music to Bedside

AAMC Reporter – March 2014
By Kim Krisberg, special to The Reporter

Read original article here.

During the last years of his life, James Jenkins’ father spent a lot of time in and out of medical facilities because of complications from diabetes. Whenever he was hospitalized, he asked his son, a musician, to play at his bedside.

“I saw the impact—the immediate impact,” said Jenkins, who plays the tuba. “I not only noticed a change in my father, but a difference in the environment.”

The experience inspired Jenkins to found Body & Soul–The Art of Healing, a nonprofit organization in Jacksonville, Fla., that connects local musicians and artists with local health care facilities such as hospitals, hospices, assisted living facilities, and psychiatric centers. Debuting in 2000, Body & Soul now has a roster of about 200 artists and musicians who perform nearly 1,000 events every year, from live music to dance to theater.

Musician “room service,” in which musicians stroll from room to room playing at patients’ bedsides, is one of the most popular offerings. The experience often is emotional and deeply intimate for both patient and musician, said Jenkins, who told stories of patients leaving their rooms to follow the sound of a violin or patients brought to tears upon hearing a meaningful song from their past. In more than one instance, patients who had not spoken for days or even months were so moved by the music that they spoke again, Jenkins said.

“Music reaches something deep inside most people that nothing else can get to,” he said. “What we’ve learned that we didn’t anticipate is that for the musicians, there’s as much therapeutic value as we think we’re offering to patients and staff. We receive just as much benefit from giving our offering to people at a point in their lives when they really could use some elevation of spirit.”

Jenkins and his organization are among a growing number of efforts to bring live musical performance to the hospital setting. Different from music therapy, in which evidencebased music interventions are used to reach specific therapeutic goals, programs such as Body & Soul improve the quality of the time patients spend in a health care facility.

While research still is emerging on the health benefits of listening to live music, findings are encouraging. For example, a 2007 study published in the Irish Medical Journal found that chamber orchestra performances at a teaching hospital helped both patients and staff relax and feel more positive. Another study published in 2010 in Heart found that classical music had a particularly relaxing effect and might be a useful clinical protocol for patients undergoing open-heart surgery.

At Mayo Clinic Hospital in Jacksonville, musicians and artists from Body & Soul are available five days a week, explained Chrysanthe Yates, program coordinator for the clinic’s Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities in Medicine. “Room service” performances are offered to all patients, and the musicians help create a “healing environment” within the hospital, she noted.

About a year and a half ago, Yates helped launch an ongoing study of patients receiving chemotherapy and cancer treatment to compare the impact of a live musical or art intervention with the impact of listening to music or learning about art on a computer. “It’s a very personal thing to watch a musician play—you’re engaged with another human being,” Yates said. “It’s a beautiful form of distraction.”

Live classical music also can be heard in the halls of Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Ga. About three years ago, with the support of a small grant, the hospital partnered with the local Savannah Philharmonic to bring musical performance to its patients. Philharmonic musicians perform twice weekly, sometimes in small groups and other times as soloists, in the lobby waiting room and the chemotherapy treatment rooms, as well as on the oncology ward, said Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, L.M.S.W., O.S.W.-C, manager of oncology support services at the hospital’s Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute. Musicians often take requests, playing everything from “Moon River” to country western to songs from Broadway musicals. Just a few weeks earlier, she noted, the music led to a spontaneous moment of staff and patient dancing.

“We have a lot of people dealing with pain, nausea, and depression, and I think [the music], to some degree, provides an escape from their situations,” Currin-McCulloch said. “It brings a little bit of lightness.”

In addition, the deep emotional reaction patients often have when hearing live music can strengthen their relationships with physicians. “For new doctors and residents who are seeing the hospital world for the first time, they’ll see patients from an entirely different, humanistic perspective,” Currin-McCulloch said.

For Stephen Klasko, M.D., M.B.A., president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, music is literally the backdrop to his life. He plays the piano “well” and the guitar “not as well,” and he said people can gauge what kind of day he is having by the music playing in his office. “Music means everything to me,” Klasko said.

In light of his background, it is no surprise that Klasko said he “couldn’t be more excited” about the hospital system’s new collaboration with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Launched in January, the partnership allows patients at the Kimmel Cancer Center to enjoy orchestra performances on demand via the hospital’s GetWellNetwork, an interactive system accessed through hospital room televisions. Klasko noted that the number of patients accessing the concerts tripled after the first week the streaming videos were available. Within the first month, about 25 percent of patients were watching the concerts. Klasko said the goal is to expand access throughout the hospital system.

Klasko noted that the hospital has plans to conduct research into the effects of musical performances on patients and how they feel about their disease. “I think we’ll probably see that [the performances] make more of a difference than some of the other things we do,” he said. “We know how to treat cancer, but what people in a hospital really want is hope and a feeling of beauty again. And chamber music is pure and emotional, beautiful, and comforting.”

Klasko added that being exposed to music and art in medical school can help students tap into their emotional intelligence. In fact, when Klasko served as dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, he created the SELECT (scholarly excellence, leadership education, collaborative training) Program, in which prospective students are judged on their emotional intelligence. At Thomas Jefferson, where researchers have developed a special scale to measure a health professional’s empathy, Klasko hopes to create a school of music and health—“a learning lab where arts and music intersect with medicine.”

Live music can go “a long way to humanize the whole medical experience, which can be very impersonal, very demoralizing,” said Thomas Sheldon, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire and a musician in the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, which is made up primarily of health care professionals. Sheldon, who plays the oboe and English horn, sometimes plays for his patients as well. On one occasion, he played his oboe for a patient who was nearly deaf. She was so excited to be able to hear the oboe’s rich notes that she burst into tears.

“I don’t pretend to know the physiology,” Sheldon said. “But whatever it is, it’s something that clearly helps us heal ourselves.”

Classical guitarist Soran Dalawi agrees. A few times each month, he plays for patients at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., as part of Heartpower Performances, a program of San Diego State University. He performs short, private performances at the patient’s bedside. During his first performance last November, he was playing for a patient who was nervous about having surgery the next morning. As Dalawi began to strum the strings, she fell into a very calm state. When he finished, she thanked him and said she finally felt relaxed enough to fall asleep. Later, a nurse told him that patients began wandering from their rooms, searching for the music during his performance.

“Seeing this happen in person over and over again, there’s definitely something to it,” Dalawi said. “There’s a certain connection when watching someone play…It’s a very human experience.”