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Listening to music during surgery is cutting both ways

Listening to music during surgery is cutting both ways

Many physicians advocate the healing powers of music that are beneficial to doctors as well as patients. Various studies confirm this: the positive effects vary from soothing to analgesic for patients to anxiety-reducing for the doctors who support them. The British surgeon David Bosanquet and his colleagues compared these studies in an editorial, recently published in British Medical Journal.

The healing effect of music has been known since the dawn of medicine in ancient Greece - the mythical god Apollo was known as protector of both medicine and music. He could therefore alleviate physical and psychological suffering. From the development of medical chest percussion and the stethoscope to music therapy: throughout history, medicine is connected to music and its effect on human health.

Today, music is used regularly in the operation room because of its soothing and analgesic properties. Various studies compared the perioperative effects of music to those of medication. As a preoperative anxiolytic, music even proved to be superior to midazolam. Moreover, although the analgesic effect of music is modest compared with that of certain drugs administered postoperatively, the benefits are substantial -- there are minimal costs and no side effects. "Music is a wonder drug that we are under-utilising", says Bosanquet.

In many cases, music is also beneficial to the surgeon on duty as well as his team. According to an Israelic study conducted in 2008, music is played during 60 to 70 percent of all operation time and approximately 80 percent of the staff report that they think music is anxiety-reducing and beneficial to communication in the team. Moreover, surgeons who listen to music regularly, show increased focus and aid task completion. Critics argue that it consumes cognitive bandwidth and could form a distraction, so the authors propose that noise levels be monitored.

The most efficient music genre remains a matter of choice. Bosanquet: “Older surgeons often listen to classical music, whereas younger generations tend to listen to music from the charts.” He concludes that the patient remains the most important person and that it is important to consider everyone’s musical wishes. However, Bosanquet adds: “If you don’t like your boss’s playlist, you’re advised to pretend you do.”

Sources: British Medical Journal, NOS.

MedZine writes twice per week about notable science.

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