Detroit anesthesiologist Dr. Kathy Schlecht (left) is investigating the benefits of listening to music while undergoing surgery. (Photo: Beaumont Health System)

According to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, Beaumont Health System anesthesiologist Dr. Kathy Schlecht is conducting a study to find out “to what extent music may uncoil our anxiety and even reduce pain during medical procedures.” Not surprisingly, preliminary data show that music can help surgery patients a good deal.

Why is this not surprising? Because a number of similar studies have already demonstrated music’s effectiveness in reducing the need for both pain and anti-anxiety meds before and after surgery. A 2011 study published in the AANA Journal, for example, concluded:

Music is a non-invasive and low-cost intervention that can be easily implemented in the preoperative setting and can reduce MAP [mean arterial pressure], anxiety, and pain among women undergoing mastectomy for breast cancer.

Similarly, a 2007 study concluded:

Music is a simple, safe, and effective method of reducing potentially harmful physiologic and psychologic responses arising from pain in patients post-PCI undergoing a C-clamp procedure.

Yet another study, published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2013, concluded that music may not only help relieve the pain and distress experienced by children undergoing intravenous placement, it may also alleviate parents’ anxieties and make the healthcare providers’ jobs easier. (In this study, music was played through speakers instead of a set of headphones.)

These and many other studies bode well for Dr. Schlecht and her team at Beaumont Health System; for it seems that, whether through simple distraction, the evocation of pleasant memories, or by causing a release of endorphins in the brain, music can indeed help us cope with some of the most traumatic events we’re likely to endure in our lifetimes — such as surgery.

The question is: How many of these studies will have to be done before physicians and healthcare organizations feel comfortable adopting music interventions on a wider scale? Evidence of music’s efficacy in various clinical contexts is remarkably consistent, and yet the actual use of music in hospitals settings is the exception, not the rule.

Let’s hope that the relatively slow adoption of music interventions is due more to a lack of awareness and not to some outdated bias against so-called “soft” modalities. In any case, as patients demand more of the kind of amenities that will make their hospital stays more comfortable (and, thus, more conducive to healing), it’s easy to imagine an increase in requests for some kind of in-room music service. Could it be that consumer demand is what pushes music-for-patients over the tipping point?