"Administrative staff are less besieged by parents wondering when their children will be seen, and the children are better able to respond to the diagnostic questions and activities of medical personnel," the authors wrote.
"Today, there is increasing evidence, that the physical environment of art and music, carefully chosen—which distracts people from anxiety and stress, can change the way patients perceive their entire care experience," he says.
"And the cost of doing this is extraordinarily low, often requiring no more than one full-time person working with some volunteers on a unit or multiple units. The payoff is enormous."
Real clinical research to examine how much money might be saved in avoided drugs or staff time required to calm anxious patients has yet to be done. But in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal physicians suggest that music may stimulate areas of the brain, not just in patients with dementia, but it may help premature infants gain weight, autistic children communicate, and stroke patients regain functions.
"Neuroscientists are starting to identify the underlying brain mechanisms that explain how music connects with the mind and body, and they are starting to work hand-in-hand with music therapists to develop new therapeutic programs," the article says.
Maureen Bisognano, IHI executive vice president and chief operating officer, says, "Hospital architects and designers are familiar with this world of research. But I don't know how many hospital executives are.
"It opens hospital executive minds to see that we're treating people, not organs, and we have to put the whole environmental support for the whole human being back into the equation," says Bisognano, former CEO at Massachusetts Respiratory Hospital in Braintree.
But one measurement tool that can score the impact of art and music in a tangible way is the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems or HCAHPS score.
Sadler advises hospital officials that find themselves financially strapped in these lean times to seek philanthropists "who are committed to the arts, but who are not giving money to hospitals."
Hospitals could suggest, for example, "we know you funded the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, how would you like to do something that would actually help patients' lives? Now, most hospitals don't think like that," says Sadler.
Sadler adds that in the context of the health reform debates, the idea of creating more satisfying healthcare environments is increasingly important. "I wish that those in the healthcare field, while so absorbed in health reform, don't lose sight about why we're here, not just to cure an illness, but to provide an environment that is healing and inspiring and hopeful. I think it makes good economic sense."