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There's More To Hospital Healing Than Drugs and Surgery

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Most of us are familiar with the soothing nature of music or how a piece of art can lift the spirit. Increasingly, the medical community too has recognized the potential of the arts to contribute to healthcare. A study released this week cites many local and examples and aims to encourage more integration of arts and medicine. ideastream’s David C. Barnett reports.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Hospitals can be stressful places. Pain, fear, and depression often are associated with patient care. Physical and emotional suffering may be unavoidable for the sick and injured, but a growing number of caregivers believe it can be reduced through the arts.

SOUND: ambient music UP & UNDER

Hallways and corridors throughout the Clinic’s main campus are filled with an unobtrusive ambient music. You’re not even supposed to really notice but it is meant to have a soothing influence. Maria Jukic is executive director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Art & Medicine Institute, and she says this subtle soundscape is the result of a great deal of analysis

MARIA JUKIC: We looked at where this music was coming in, where it was hitting, how loud it would be, and then we located what we thought was a musical program that fits with our desire to provide a relaxing, calming and healing environment.

The insight that music can help mitigate pain is not exactly new. The Greeks noted it thousands of years ago. And military hospitals observed during World War Two that patients had a better attitude and outlook when music was playing nearby. There are many music therapy programs across the state, from University Hospitals in Cleveland to Cincinnati’s Children’s hospital. The Clinic’s Maria Jukic says research now provides some evidence of the impact.

MARIA JUKIC: Our music therapy department, in partnership with the Taussig Cancer Institute, did a study on the bone marrow transplant unit, where they provided music therapy to patients as part of a controlled study, and one of the results was that those patients who had received music therapy used less pain medication.

Now there is a new report that documents many other cases where the arts can be a tool in healing. The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture --- or CPAC – calls it’s study 'Creative Minds in Medicine'. CPAC President Thomas Schorgl says they aim to spur a more strategic approach to these activities.

THOMAS SCHORGL: Music alleviates stress and anxiety, writing and poetry helps express emotions --- those things were happening, but they were happening as more of an aside.

The CPAC study cites numerous examples around the region --- dance therapy used to help military veterans express deep emotions related to post traumatic stress disorder; a video game designed at the Cleveland Institute of Art to teach sick children ways to manage their pain; architecture of Hospice for the Western Reserve designed to promote tranquility at the end of life. And, the art and medicine connection isn’t always patient-focused.

SKIP RADWANY: I never read poetry, and certainly never attempted writing it, and it’s been an eye-opener for me.

Skip Radwany is medical director for Hospice and Palliative Care at Summa Health in Akron. He’s part of a program developed in partnership with Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center . It’s targeted toward doctors treating critically ill and dying patients.

SKIP RADWANY: It’s made me read more poetry. It’s made me think more, reflect more, and it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the work we do, which is very difficult.

Poetic introspection may not be in every doctor’s wheelhouse but Summa clinical psychologist Rod Myerscough says it can help sharpen a doctor's patient skills.

RODNEY MYERSCOUGH: There’s a poem by Mary Oliver, called “Lead”, concerning some loons and a lake and how they die --- it’s a sad poem. And then she concludes:

"I tell you this to break your heart
That it may break open
And never close again to the rest of the world."

I don’t know how to research what is gotten at in that poem, but that is what the poetry does for us here

SOUND: Ambient music UP & UNDER

And it would appear that some feelings about stress carry outside the hospital setting. Although the Cleveland Clinic’s ambient soundtrack was intended to be an internal soothing sonic wall paper, they report getting regular calls from people asking what the music is and how they can order it.

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