5 reasons why music would be great for digital health

Music as a healing mechanism has been accepted for over 50 years. Music is a source of primal memory similar to that of smell. It has been used in brain injury patient management, as well as to promote wellness, manage stress alleviate pain, promote physical rehabilitation, and enhance memory in Alzheimer’s Disease patients. I have appreciated the power of music my whole life and as a physician and musician, realized its healing potential early on in my medical career. I burned CDs of the music chosen by my patients to be played during their surgery (usually performed with light sedation) and gave it to them as a surprise at their office follow-up visit.

I will lightly touch on some reasons why music would be a great digital health technology.

1. There are scientific studies to provide evidence of efficacy. There are very few digital health technologies that are mobile technologies which have been proven to be efficacious. Since music has been digital for decades, it is a natural for adoption as a mobile health tech tool. Here’s a nice bibliography on the uses of music therapy. Areas such as mental health, special education and Autism, and pain management have been subjects of studies.

2. Music is universal. Language and cultural barriers are often cited as sources of failure of the healthcare system. Music is a communication tool which transcends this issue. Presented in the context of graphic or other simple instructions, it can be used in a number of acute or chronic disease settings by a provider, therapist or caregiver with the patient if necessary.

3. Music bridges literacy gaps. Reading, health, or digital literacy gaps can be bridged with simple digital music devices. One needs to press an on/off button in a personalized programmed device for the patient with prerecorded simple instructions. This is ideal for even young children.

4. Music tech is economical, generic and interoperable. Reimbursement issues and medical regulatory requirements (unless medical claims or clinical decision support is contained) are not significant for a simple musical digital technology solution. This leads more easily to adoption by payers, providers, and patients alike. Wouldn’t it be nice to have analytic tools which proscribe different types of music based on diagnoses found in the the patient’s electronic record?

5. Music builds relationships. As discussed above, music is associated with memories. I have observed strong relationship building with the use of music as a tool. Anecdotally, I can say that music decreases anxiety during and after surgical procedures. In addition, it conveys an appreciated humanistic side of the provider to the patient.

While not considered a digital health technology (I have yet to see it described as such elsewhere), music is digital and is certainly entrenched in the annals of healing. So let’s begin to consider it as such and build it into health portals, apps, and other tools.

David Lee Scher is a former cardiologist and a consultant, DLS Healthcare Consulting, LLC. He blogs at his self-titled site, David Lee Scher, MD.

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  • http://www.anomalousmedical.com/ David Donald

    I guess Bob Marley said it best: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

    Great article. I would be interested in knowing what type of music is most preferable to patients who are undergoing surgery? Is it Jazz, classical, dare I say, heavy metal?

    • dlschermd

      Thanks, David. It is all types. I have had 70 somethings request Led Zeppilin. It is regional and age-related as well. Gospel is surprisingly requested more often than one would statistically expect.

  • traumadoc

    i agree! i brought a radio into the O.R. back in the early 80′s. my mentor in surgery thought it was a great idea. the administration threatened to kick me off staff.i played my accordian on a xmas eve through the pediatric ward and me and my 2 O.R. nurses gave out candy. again, i was warned!
    then i remember my dad, who spent 10 of 18 years in a coma. i had him home and took care of him myself and taught my mom and sister to be nurses. i took 8 years off from practice. i would play the guitar or piano or accordian by the bed side. his hands and feet would move to the rythym sometimes—amazing!
    anyway,i have always wanted to open a practice called “medomusica”……
    for now i teach medicine and allied health and i practice as a flight physician. and, wherever i go in the world,music is always the perfect communicator-healer.

    • dlschermd

      Music has been a part of lifting the spirit in religious settings forever. It should be a part of physical and mental healing as well.

  • dlschermd

    Thanks, The video was great!