Does Bringing The Arts Into Healthcare Make Business Sense? Panelists Explore

For Todd Frazier, earning buy-in from his health system’s higher-ups to build out a musical therapy program took a concerted effort to shift the conversation. Rather than discussing reimbursement and how the system could pay for it, Frazier put the focus on why what he proposed to offer was essential for any leading-edge provider.

It ultimately worked, with Frazier—who directs the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at the eight facilities that make up Houston Methodist Hospital—earning backing through philanthropy in the early stages. The juice has proved worth the squeeze, and Houston Methodist now employs seven full-time musical therapists, making it one of the biggest such programs in the country.

Frazier was at a Business Council for the Arts event Wednesday morning that explored the intersection of healthcare and the arts. At the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas, Frazier was joined as a panelist by Dr. John Harper, a cardiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas; Upali Nanda, director of research at healthcare-aimed architectural firm HKS; and Pamela Stoyanoff, COO of Methodist Hospitals of Dallas and a board member of the Business Council for the Arts. Stoyanoff moderated.

Frazier’s center includes bringing music to patients in more ways than one. Some who have trouble with traditional speech therapy will respond to musical therapy, for instance. Psych patients requesting meds might find themselves instead soothed by Houston Methodist’s “music dome” (offering personalized playlists).

Both prompted by Stoyanoff and by his own accord, Frazier hit on the business side of the programs, as well. One key in justifying their longevity has been the contributions to patient satisfaction scores; keyword searches of patient comments have revealed dozens of comments about music, almost all of them positive, Frazier said. (Patient satisfaction impacts reimbursement levels from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.) He added that the music dome has nudged down costs on medication.

“Every time we opened a new music therapy position, it took about four to six months for the nurses, the physicians, the executives to say, ‘We have to guarantee this person is here every day. Because we need it, we see what it does, we’re able to down-scale support, and our length of stay is lowering,’” Frazier said.

For his part, Harper, of Presby, made a case for physicians themselves taking up interests in the arts. He told a story from his childhood of the compassionate care he saw a local general practitioner provide to his father, often late at night during fits of pain. He set out to provide that care himself, and eventually gained an appreciation for the way that literature and other art forms can foster compassion.

When he started to teach residency, he noticed his students had a dearth of literary knowledge, so he began bringing around essays, books, and poems and holding sessions to break them down. He also eventually started a “Literature and Medicine” conference and has been an advocate for linking the arts with healthcare at the educational level.

“There is a push in undergraduate medicine away from liberal arts,” Harper said. “I think some of the best physicians I ever worked with had liberal arts undergraduate degrees. Pre-medical students now are so focused on trying to get into medical school that they have no time, no room for that. I think we need to start, even at the college level, trying to let people understand that humanities are a part of it.”

Nanda, of HKS, spoke to the impact that artwork on the walls of hospital rooms can have on patient outcomes, citing a study that makes a case for hospitals to deploy artwork based not only on improved patient outcomes but on small cost savings. Artwork tends to ease anxiety and reduce aggression in patients, she said.

“No one tells you to hush when you go into a museum, but you do,” Nanda said.