Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” – Elton John


It’s that most wonderful time of the year – the holidays. That special time of song and good cheer, religious celebrations, and family traditions. But for a patient in a hospital or other healthcare setting, the holidays can be not so wonderful and full of stress and emotion.

Elton John was speaking as a musician, but his words could just as easily have been from a clinician. Music indeed does have healing power that has been well documented in one clinical study after another. Even in our daily lives, we can feel the power of music therapy – and perhaps at no time more profoundly than during the holidays.

Who among us hasn’t had a moment of warm nostalgia when the radio station cues up a favorite holiday classic that brings back special memories? It’s no wonder that some stations now play holiday music year-round. Those feel-good songs relax us from stress and brighten our moods. The same holds true in the healthcare setting.

Hospitalization During the Holidays

Hospitals don’t close down for the holidays. Illnesses don’t take the season off. The CDC estimates that 5,800 people are treated for fall-related injuries in hospitals every holiday season. Another study found that hospitals see holiday spikes in each of the top five disease groups (circulatory diseases; neoplasms; respiratory diseases; endocrine/nutritional/metabolic diseases; digestive diseases).

“If you or a loved one are faced with an unexpected hospitalization, remember you don’t have to feel shut off from the celebration,” says Registered Nurse Deborah Leader. “Adding some yuletide touches to your hospital room and surrounding yourself with friends and family may be just the seasonal ticket needed to get you through this tough time.”

At the top of her list is music. “Music is extremely therapeutic for people who are sick. With that in mind, why not sing Christmas carols with family and friends, or ask a loved one to bring your favorite music in so you and your visitors can listen to holiday music,” she suggests.

Therapeutic Benefits of Music

“All of us have a connection to our music,” says Debi Cost, Director of Client Enrichment & Training with Sentrics partner Coro Health, which provides therapeutic music to patients in healthcare environments, from hospitals to skilled nursing and dialysis treatment centers. “We have a connection to our own personal soundtrack.”

By connecting patients to that personal soundtrack, healthcare providers are documenting impressive positive health improvements. “We’re finding that by using therapeutic music, some hospitals have been able to reduce anesthesia by 33%,” she notes. “By providing music that the patient was connected to, they are better able to relax, lower their heart rate and see more positive outcomes.” Indeed, studies have demonstrated that individualized therapeutic music often can reduce the amount of pharmacological intervention required for patients.

The positive impact on patient outcomes is undeniable, and there are several approaches a hospital can take to implement a therapeutic music program for patients. They include hiring certified music therapists, subscribing to a streaming service, or incorporating music into the interactive patient experience platform.

The Personal Role of Music Therapists

Traditionally, music therapy has been administered by a certified music therapist working one on one with a patient. To earn the certified music therapy title requires a degree from one of 70 college music therapy programs and successful completion of the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) exam. Only individuals with the proper training and credentials are qualified to provide music therapy services.

The challenge, notes Cost, is one of supply and demand. “A music therapist working one on one with a patient is the most beautiful connection that any healthcare environment can have,” she says. “But there are only around 10,000 certified therapists in the US.” That is far short of the 919,000-plus staffed hospital beds in the US, and “without a music therapist,” says Cost, “that patient room goes quiet and lonely.”

The Limitations of Streaming Services for Therapeutic Music

Streaming music services are a readily available source of music, but are they “music therapy”? The answer, according to the American Music Therapy Association, is no. Music therapy means the clinical and evidence-based use of music intervention to accomplish individualized goals for people of all ages and ability levels,” it says.  “Music therapy treatment plans are individualized for each client. The goals, objectives, and potential strategies of the music therapy services are appropriate for the client and setting.”

In other words, a patient might feel more relaxed or happy while listening to favorite holiday carols over Spotify but only clinically curated, personalized music can be considered therapeutic music specifically addressing the patient’s needs.

Relying on streaming services may seem like a quick and relatively cheap music therapy fix at first glance, but upon closer look, many hospitals are uncovering roadblocks. With IT security a significant concern in healthcare organizations, hospital firewalls often restrict the use of streaming services over the system’s network. Even if the firewall can be bypassed, the associated costs and ongoing maintenance support can be prohibitive. If considering the use of a streaming service, your budget should include the purchase of:

  • Individual listening devices for patients
  • Headsets/earphones for each patient bed
  • Enterprise-level subscription to a streaming service
  • Replacement costs for lost equipment
  • Staff time for delivering, tracking, and sanitizing equipment

 Extending Therapeutic Music through Technology

Interactive technology is enabling hospitals to bypass the costs and challenges of finding and hiring music therapists, and the downsides of relying on internet streaming services.

With it, therapeutic curated music can touch patients in every room of the 6,000-plus hospitals across the country. Using an interactive education and entertainment platform, nurses can help patients in acute care and skilled nursing facilities tap into curated music without the need to hire a music therapist.

How is this music different from simply cueing up a streaming playlist? It is created by a team of music therapists, music designers, and neuroscientists. Each program is created with the understanding and knowledge of the emotional, psychological, physiological, and behavioral nature of people.

“As a sickle cell patient, I know that pain and painful crises can be a hallmark symptom,” notes Kevin Wake, president of the Uriel E. Owens Sickle Cell Disease Association of the Midwest and a member of Sentrics E3’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC).

“I learned at a very early age that music can help me cope with some of the pain that I have with sickle cell crisis and when I’m in the hospital. The music actually helps me relax, “he says.” The music has been a ritual for me, in my own personal self-care and management of my disease at home, even when I’m not in the hospital in pain. If I have a small crisis, I can better manage my crisis and reduce the amount of pain medication if I have music that I’m listening to.”

As a member of the Sentrics E3 PFAC, Wake brings valuable patient voice to help Sentrics deliver patient-centered interactive features, like therapeutic music, that help improve the patient experience.

Perhaps at no greater time than the holidays can music help improve a hospital patient’s experience. Interactive therapeutic music is an easy and clinically proven way to bring some healing cheer to patients.

Get more insights on the healing power of music in our recent interview with Wake, Cost, and other PFAC members. Listen Now.