November 3, 2021
Patients with cancer saw positive emotional outcomes after attending music therapy sessions via telehealth, Texas researchers found.
Using telehealth for music therapy sessions for patients with cancer can accomplish the same goals as in-person sessions while improving patient outcomes, according to two case studies completed at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Board-certified music therapists engage with patients using live music to help improve symptoms and health outcomes during music therapy. For patients with cancer, music therapists generally focus on addressing anxiety, depression, and pain and hope to achieve positive emotional expression and increased social interaction and comfort.
Many cancer patients started using telehealth for non-invasive medical appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid exposure to the virus. While telehealth was the safest option, the transition, along with social distancing orders and restricted visitor policies, increased feelings of loneliness and isolation among patients.
When the pandemic hit, the Integrative Medicine Center at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which previously offered in-person music therapy, implemented a telehealth system for its music therapy services.
The music therapists conducted the meetings via Zoom, using a speaker to play recorded music and an acoustic guitar and piano for live music. Patients in the hospital received an iPad during their stay which they could use to access Zoom. Outpatient individuals used their own devices to access the sessions.
To understand how music therapy impacted patient outcomes, researchers asked the patients to rate their symptoms on a scale of zero to 10—zero indicating no problems and 10 signifying most severe problems. Patients completed the questionnaire before and after their sessions.
The researchers also asked the patients open-ended questions including “What was your experience of telehealth music therapy like?” and “What were the benefits and barriers of telehealth music therapy?”
Overall, the patients were satisfied with the telehealth sessions and saw improved outcomes. Patients who participated in a group session noted that it was a supportive environment and a good opportunity to connect with others without risking exposure to COVID-19, according to the study.
The case studies offered a deeper look into the specific benefits of using telehealth for music therapy.
The case study focused on two different patients who attended music therapy sessions via telehealth during the first three months of the health system’s telehealth transition. One patient received virtual music therapy during an inpatient stay in the intensive care unit and the other patient attended sessions in an outpatient setting.
The first patient attended two individual virtual sessions while in the ICU and saw significant emotional improvements, as well as physical improvements. During one session, the patient said he was feeling anxious about his tachycardia. He had fallen asleep by the end of the session, with help from the music therapist, and his heart rate was at the lowest it had been in the last 12 hours, the researchers noted.
The patient’s daughter accompanied him during the individual sessions and the subsequent group sessions he attended. She shared that the mute function on Zoom helped her navigate her father’s aphasia during the session and facilitate private conversations.
The second case study patient attended five individual music therapy sessions from an outpatient setting. She said she was hoping the sessions would reduce her anxiety and depression symptoms, according to the study.
After the session, she rated her anxiety and depression each a 1 out of 10, showing a clinically significant decline from her initial rating of 3 out of 10 prior to the session.
The patient also noted the importance of the videoconferencing aspect and said that the one audio-only session she attended was not as effective.
The virtual music therapy sessions not only improved patient symptoms, but they also proved to be convenient for the patients.
“The telehealth format allowed for participation without the burden of traveling to and from the Integrative Medicine Center, removing stressors associated with driving, parking, and COVID-19 exposure,” the researchers wrote.
Because music therapy aims to address emotional and social symptoms in cancer patients, telehealth has the potential to achieve similar outcomes as in-person sessions, the study found.
Like most telehealth programs, technology barriers exist; however, it seems that the positives may outweigh the negatives when it comes to virtual music therapy.