Music in hospitals – A good way of improving the patient experience?
Dr. Harriet Etheredge
Posted on February 16, 2018
Over the last few years, I’ve been in a (really quite peripheral) supporting role to a group of Wits University music students who have come to our hospital on a regular basis to play music and sing for patients and staff. Over this time, we evaluated the impact that the music had on patient and staff experiences in the hospital – and our findings are reported in this academic article.
For me, this has been an eye-opening initiative. The first time I walked around the hospital with the musicians it felt very odd. In my mind, hospitals have always been quiet places where patients get to ‘heal’. So it was a challenge getting my head around the music and singing. But it soon became clear to me that people were enjoying it. Patients started participating or requesting songs, and the nursing staff danced and sang along. Interestingly, patients stated that the music made them feel better, that it was something to break-up the monotony of a hospital day.
The project got so much positive feedback and it really made me question whether we are, in fact, acting in the best interests of patients when we insist on silence in hospitals. Of course each ward is different, and in some wards the music probably wouldn’t be appropriate. But the team who worked with us were really sensitive to this, and spent a lot of time identifying the best areas for performance. The fact that the initiative also improved staff morale was an important added bonus, as staff burnout is on the rise across the world and we need to start considering how to mitigate or prevent it – perhaps music is a good way of doing this.
There were some hitches along the way – especially when it came to choosing songs. The groups who came to our hospital have done an impressive job in choosing songs that are popular and loved, but not controversial. I think that it was a real learning process for the musicians too, and I admired their bravery. These students had never really been in the hospital environment before. It must have been quite overwhelming to be bringing music into a space which is not traditionally designed for performance. Certainly, there were times when all the students were squashed together in the corridor because there had been requests from patients and there really wasn’t an ideal performance area for them. Luckily, musicians are mobile, and so they literally took the music to the beside, for patients who were not able to get out of bed.
As I have written in previous posts, we tend to forget that hospital stays for patients are often quite unstructured, and this can result in a sense of being out-of-control and uncertain about the future. The overwhelmingly positive response to the music programme has convinced me that we need to open our minds to incorporating humanities-based interventions into traditional health care settings as a good way to improve patient experiences.
The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions. They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.