Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Music as Environmental Design: What Does the Patient Hear?

July 8, 2016

music as environmental designToday I walked to Starbucks about mile and a half from my home.  It’s a good way to get an early three-mile walk in before my day starts.

I have done this for many years.  However, what I walked into today was very different.

Once I got my soy latte, the friend I was with mentioned the music, which was too loud, too fast, very pop.  I realized that I had been talking faster and louder than normal and that my whole being was pretty ramped up, prior to drinking my latte!

I went to the counter and complained that I felt the music was “too aggressive.”  The manager changed it to another genre, rap and hip-hop.  It was worse.  I went again to the counter.

I suggested she try instrumental rather than vocals and maybe something like “smooth jazz,” which is basically the cross-section where pop and jazz meet.  We waited.

She finally found the jazz track.  It was an old tune, a solo piano.  I decided to leave.

But before I left, I said to the manager, “The music controls the environment and will overtake the good service you provide.  In an instant, your Starbucks can feel like a McDonalds or any other fast food joint. Is that what you want?”

She knew nothing about the music — she just pressed a genre on her iPhone and it played on the overhead system.  Not her job, obviously.  Well, whose job is it?

Music as Environmental Design in Hospitals

To create a better experience, the healthcare industry has looked to the hospitality industry to improve services and amenities.  But here’s the question:  Do we want hospitals to feel like a nice hotel or a Motel 6?  The music played in lobbies, waiting areas, and patient rooms controls the experience.

I define this concept as “Music as Environment Design.”  Because music is the environment. It is who we are when we hear it.  And, it is involuntary. We cannot turn our ears off.

We can try to tune it out and may be successful some of the time, but not all the time. We also bring our own music history of experience and expectations.  None of which serves us when we are anxious or distressed.

Music creates space with intention and mood, with attitude and emotions.  And so does noise.  Sounds of people speaking in anger or fear, hearing the expression of pain or sorrow from someone you do not know, becomes the music that one may not want to hear.

From its inception, The C.A.R.E. Channel has been about music as environmental design, about nature that inspires wonder and celebrates life and music that is universal, original, and frees patients and families from the emotional responses often triggered by familiar music.  C.A.R.E. is now, in its 25th year, is even better at achieving its service to caregivers and their patients.

So, what do you want your hospital to feel like — Starbucks or McDonalds?  Nice hotel or Motel 6?

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