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Cut to the beat – music in the operating room

Playing music in the operating has been shown to benefit both patients and doctors. What are surgeons listening to? And why? EuroTimes Content Editor Aidan Hanratty reports

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Monday, August 14, 2017


Spotify’s playlist for surgeons

Cataract surgery can be a stressful experience. Many people have hang-ups about their eyes, and the idea of a surgeon, no matter how capable they may be, poking around in the ocular region may set even the calmest individual on edge. Music can therefore play an important part in the process.

One study followed 141 patients undergoing cataract surgery under local anaesthetic, with subjects being given earphones playing binaural beat music, plain music or nothing at all (control). Blood pressure and heart rate were measured before and 20 minutes into the operation, while anxiety was assessed throughout using The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Both musical groups saw significant reductions in STAI scores and in blood pressure compared with the control group, while only the binaural beat group saw a significant reduction in heart rate.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz MD has been experimenting with music since the 1990s, with patients being given headphones as they went under. He told Billboard: “To deal with the root cause of pain, you need to numb the area locally, which is hard to do because I’m working on your heart. The bone that I break is not easy to make immediately better…

“We thought: ‘If I can get you to be calm about the pain you’re having then you won’t need to take as many pain pills. If I can get you to meditate through your pain, or if I can use your subconscious to convince you that you’re not really feeling the pain as much as you think you are…’ That’s like when you’re playing in the middle of a game, and you sprain something, you don’t even notice it.”

This corresponds with both the prospective study above and what one skin cancer surgeon told The Guardian. “All the surgery I do now is local anaesthetic surgery on people’s faces. The main function for me is to get a patient, who is awake, to relax when I am about to put a knife into their face,” said Gabriel Weston, in a piece that asked doctors if they played music in theatre. Most said yes, but the styles they listened to varied.

Studies have shown that music can aid task completion, and indeed Dr Weston said that: “In planned operations, there are long stretches where you are doing something you have done many times, but it still requires meticulousness, and music is good for this.” As far as what type of music can help, it’s generally best to listen to music that you know, as new and unfamiliar music can demand your attention, as you listen closer in order to hear what’s coming next.

Spotify recently teamed up with healthcare app Figure 1 to find out what doctors were listening to. In short? Everything. Tastes ranged from hard rock to radio pop, classical to hip-hop. One ophthalmologist’s choice was jazz. Asked if there was a point where they turned off the music, they simply replied: “Never.”