We have known since the time of Florence Nightingale that listening to music has a positive impact on patients during surgery. However, it’s taken pulling together all the small studies on this subject into one robust meta-analysis to really prove it works.

So says Dr. Martin Hirsch of Queen Mary University of London, one of four co-authors of a new study (available for free download here) that reviewed 70 clinical trials to determine (once and for all?) whether music is, indeed, as beneficial to patients in perioperative settings as many clinicians have asserted it is.

Lead author Dr. Catherine Meads of Brunel University in Uxbridge, England hopes that by synthesizing both the qualitative and quantitative findings of so many studies, which together represent a sample size of nearly 7,000 patients, she and her team can help break down persistent barriers to the widespread adoption of music as a “non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive intervention.” Although the study cites “ignorance” as one of the barriers hindering wider adoption, it also points out that skepticism about the effectiveness of music is pervasive.

Currently music is not used routinely during surgery to help patients in their post-operative recovery. We hope this study will now shift misperceptions and highlight the positive impact music can have.

Dr. Catherine Meads of Brunel University, Uxbridge, England

One way that the study authors quantify music’s effectiveness is to measure its pain-relieving power. As Catherine Meads explains, the research that she and her team reviewed showed that music consistently shifted the perception of pain two points downward on a ten-point pain scale. This has significant implications in the potential for reducing the need for analgesics that have deleterious side effects or carry the risk of addiction.

The study concludes rather emphatically “music should be available to all patients undergoing surgery.” Indeed, anticipating wider adoption of music as a clinical intervention, study authors point out that practical “obstacles…such as copyright and intellectual property issues, need investigation.”

It’s encouraging that the study authors make this point because it implies that the questions of efficacy and empirical justification are settled. Now, the study asserts, it’s time to take the next logical step and figure out the practical details of implementation. And although making music available to hospital patients isn’t without its challenges, they pale in comparison to the barrier of skepticism that this study could finally eliminate.