Beatles or Beethoven?

music image
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The question of whether or not to incorporate music has come up in almost every healthcare design project, and more often than not, it is dropped because of polarized positions for and against, and no particular understanding of whether there is any therapeutic value. Some do feel that it offers an acoustic-privacy benefit and a positive distraction for patients. Others feel it may interfere with communication or is simply annoying. As a result, clinicians and staff may feel that it will be difficult to gain consensus on implementation, so better not to go there.

But wait, there are studies…

In an article in The Lancet in August 2015, Jenny Hole and her colleagues analyzed 72 randomized controlled trials varying in size from 20 to 458 participants that examined the effects of music on surgical patients. The results were very interesting. Although the use of music did not reduce overall length of stay, the studies did indicate that inclusion of music:

  • reduced post-op pain, anxiety, and the need for analgesia, and
  • increased patient satisfaction

They also determined through their analysis that the choice of music, and the timing of its delivery, had no impact on whether it was effective. In fact, it even worked when the patient was under general anesthesia. Imagine that!

So What Now?

Including music in healthcare environments is not an expensive thing to accomplish. In fact, if we could get similar results from a drug, TV commercials would be directing us to “ask your doctor about…” that new pill. So let us agree that including music is a good thing. The next step would be to perform more studies to learn how to maximize the effect. For example, does it matter whether the music is generally present in the entire facility, or should it be tailored to each patient? Is there a benefit to giving the patient choice? Should the patient be encouraged to bring their own playlist, or should they choose from a specific set provided by the facility? Does it matter whether it’s the Beatles or Beethoven?

It’s your turn. Have you incorporated music in your facilities? If so, what is your feedback?


  1. Sara Marberry /

    One of my clients is a company that produces The C.A.R.E. Channel, therapeutic programming for hospital television featuring nature video and music ( It’s played in 800+ hospitals in the U.S. Every week the company gets calls and emails from patients telling them how watching The C.A.R.E. Channel during their hospital stay calmed them, helped them sleep, etc. They want to know how to get it at home (we just introduced an app)! There’s no doubt that music can provide therapeutic benefits to patients — and music and nature together are a powerful combination.

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