If you’ve ever wondered about the power that music might have on your patients, just ask the nurses in Adventist Health-Rideout Hospital’s 24-bed Med-Surg Telemetry Unit. They care for patients suffering from acute trauma, neurological injuries, stroke and other complications — and point to “jaw-dropping” responses from patients to their recently deployed music therapy.

One patient, for example, had severe neurological deficits and could respond only in one-word answers. After several nights of caring for her, the nurse decided to try music therapy. In less than one minute of hearing the sounds of relaxed salsa music, the patient was speaking in full fluent sentences.

“It was incredible,” the nurse said, “One of the most amazing things I have witnessed as an RN.”

This patient’s story isn’t unique. It is one of countless examples of how music has the power to calm, distract and lessen pain, which is why many hospitals are incorporating music therapy into their patient care protocols.

The Power of Music: Not a New Concept 

Who hasn’t turned to music at some time to help relax, re-energize, or take our minds off of other things? Throughout history, there are myriad examples of how societies used music therapeutically. It’s woven throughout the stories of Greek Mythology and in the words of ancient philosophers. It’s been featured in Shakespeare’s plays. And it was even a prominent feature in the field hospitals of the Great World Wars—where community musicians volunteered their time to play for veterans. In fact, nurses and doctors were so stunned by the change in the soldiers’ demeanor that they began hiring musicians to play regularly for the wounded.

The American Music Therapy Association notes,1 “The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior is at least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato.”

But listening to music to boost your spirits is not the same as music therapy, the experts say.

What Is Music Therapy? 

Music therapy is more than simply playing pleasant music. It goes beyond making a playlist curated to your patient’s musical tastes. According to Cheryl Dileo, professor of music therapy and director of the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University:2

“Music therapy is an evidence-based practice that can affect changes in physical, psychological, social and cognitive domains through music experiences and the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist… It involves an interpersonal process through which a trained therapist uses his or her knowledge and skills to address the client’s assessed needs and issues. Although many people understand intuitively how to use music for themselves, when it is used within a music-therapy process by a trained therapist, it can be a powerful means to achieving positive physical, psychological, cognitive, and social outcomes.”

Guided by experienced clinicians, curated music selections support specific desired outcomes from encouraging wakefulness to helping distract a patient from a painful procedure. Music therapy can also calm an anxious patient, promote relaxation, or induce sleep. It’s been successfully applied in a variety of clinical settings, ranging from cancer wards to infant delivery centers.

And while less formal music programs can still have positive effects, music therapists bring a level of credentialism and expertise that can’t be mimicked. They are board-certified, meaning they’ve attended a college program, completed a supervised internship, and passed a national exam.

The Efficacy of Music Therapy

Anecdotal stories like those from Adventist Health-Rideout are powerful. But clinical, evidence-based data supporting the efficacy of music therapy is equally hard to ignore.

In a study of 200 cancer patients, researcher Lisa M. Gallagher, a music therapist with the Cleveland Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine, found that more than 80 percent reported an improved mood following music therapy as well as reductions in patient anxiety, pain, and shortness of breath. In a recent interview, she said:22

“We’ve known for a while that music can be used for a wide variety of things in a medical setting, but this particular study clearly shows that it helps improve mood while decreasing pain, anxiety, depression and even shortness of breath among seriously ill patients.”

In 2012, researchers found that in Alzheimer’s patients, music therapy increased the secretion of 17-estradiol and testosterone hormones that have preventative effects on the disease, and reduced problematic behaviors like a fugue.3 The study also demonstrated that:

  • There was a close association with music and hormones that govern emotion and human behavior.
  • Musical stimulation affects various biochemical substances.
  • Music-supported therapy enhances cognitive recovery, neuroplasticity, and moods after a stroke.

A more recent study, in 2021, demonstrated that music therapy combined with slow-paced breathing helped with the treatment of depression in working-age people.4

And, a comprehensive review of 22 music therapy studies concluded that:5 “[Music therapy] treatment improved the following: global and social functioning in schizophrenia and/or serious mental disorders, gait and related activities in Parkinson’s disease, depressive symptoms, and sleep quality.”

Implementing Music Therapy: Potential Roadblocks

With technology advancements, implementing music therapy in the patient room can be quick and easy. Regardless, hospitals can face some challenges to incorporate music therapy into their patient experience program. Potential roadblocks can include:

  • Strict IT protocols – The growing prevalence of hackers and malware has led many hospital IT departments to tightly lock down their network access. Those strict IT protocols often ban the use of streaming media due to bandwidth concerns, thus eliminating the use of Pandora or Spotify as music therapy resources.
  • Initial investment costs – If a music therapy program relies on purchasing listening devices, headphones and music streaming subscriptions, the hospital may face a significant initial investment budget.
  • Maintenance and upkeep – Not only do traditional listening devices require purchase investment, but they also will come with ongoing costs. Those devices need to be stored, managed, cleaned and fixed on a regular basis.
  • Troubleshooting – Music therapy delivered via traditional devices puts already busy nurses in the role of having to instruct patients how to use the devices and troubleshoot whenever patients have a technological issue.
  • Music therapy playlists – A DIY music therapy approach also means the hospital will need to curate a playlist, using either an in-house music therapist or hiring experts who are able to do that on their behalf.

Hospitals can alleviate many of these issues by leveraging their Sentrics E3 patient experience platform, which features curated music therapy.

Music therapy delivered over E3’s interactive platform on the patient room TV or other connected device ensures that patients can listen to curated music without hospital bandwidth or security concerns. And by using the existing built-in headphone jacks in pillow speakers, the hospital’s initial and ongoing hardware costs are minimal if any.

There’s no need to hire music therapy experts to create playlists, as clinically curated music has already been sourced and readily accessible to nurses and patients directly from the patient room TV’s E3 menu. Nurses can be freed up to focus on patient care, and not on troubleshooting headphone problems or tracking down replacement equipment for patient rooms.

Integrating Music Therapy into Your Patient Experience

As Adventist Health-Rideout Hospital and many others have discovered, music therapy can be another powerful tool in a hospital’s quest to provide the highest level of patient care and patient experience.  If your hospital is considering adding music therapy, read more about Adventist Health-Rideout’s journey to bring music therapy to its patients, and their early outcomes. Download the case study.


  1. American Musical Therapy Association. History of Music Therapy. https://www.musictherapy.org/about/history/
  2. ABC. Music as Medicine. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/Story?id=4500962&page=1
  3. Hindawi. Efficacy of Music Therapy in Treatment for Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijad/2012/531646/
  4. Frontiers. We found that the addition of RFB to a music therapy intervention resulted in enhanced therapeutic outcomes for clients with depression. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.613821/full
  5. NCBI. Effectiveness of music therapy: a summary of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials of music interventions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4036702/