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Music to make you better - imagineear in clinical and therapeutic environments

Blog post   •   Jul 10, 2013 16:10 BST

Amy Carmichael, London. I have recently been privileged to work with an exciting client – the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's health charity. We have been exploring different ways that digital content, smartphone apps and imagineear’s MPtouch technology can enhance the experience of visitors and patients in health environments. In a word, it's Music that Makes you Better.

In our first project together, we have focussed on links between art and health. We used our experience in cultural attractions to develop a tour of the trust’s impressive art collection (the only one of its kind to have museum accreditation). The importance of the arts in healing is well known. Florence Nightingale observed in 1859 that: "variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients have a powerful effect and are actual means of recovery."

"Variety of form and brilliancy of colour ... have a powerful effect"

On 17th June, as part of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s vibrant Arts in Health programme, Art Trail was launched; aiming to widen access to, and extend the benefits of the art on display around the hospital.

I was very excited to pay Art Trail a visit with Eleonore Heijboer, over from our Amsterdam office, when it opened its doors to guests as part of London Creativity and Health week. Art Trail is hosted on our purpose built 5” screen device, the MPtouch, and guides visitors and patients on a tour of 40 artworks on display over 7 floors, using an interactive touch-screen map.

When an artwork is selected, a piece of music plays as you look at the work. Daisy Fancourt, Performing Arts Officer at the charity and talented musician herself, used her experience to select pieces of music - anything from Debussy to Mehdi Hassan to Frank Sinatra – to complement each work.

To an ordinary visitor like myself, the effect is quite lovely ...

To an ordinary visitor like myself, the effect is quite lovely – giving context and another dimension to the art; the music really focusses your attention and gives you time to reflect and enjoy the artwork. But for patients, it has already been proven to provide a much more valuable experience. For many, Art Trail can be used as physical and psychological therapy to encourage engagement and movement around the hospital. For others it will entertain and engage them during the long days of recovery as an in-patient. It was important that the player be simple and intuitive to use, and that it should not require too much physical effort as many of the users will be unwell or elderly. The touchscreen lends itself brilliantly as a solution and it was wonderful to see visitors’ reactions as they made their own way around the hospital last week. The large screen on the MPtouch also means that patients with mobility issues can enjoy the tour from the ward through high definition, large format images of the artworks on screen.

A trial earlier in the year received fantastic feedback from both patients and clinicians. All of the patients who used the tour reported that they felt more relaxed and distracted by the tour. One physiotherapist said:

"It made my job easier because my patient enjoyed his engagement in physical activity"

A pain management patient told us "I could still feel the pain, but it helped to blank it out when the music was dramatic". Since the trial, we have extended the tour from 5 to 40 works, and increased the variety and style of the music and artwork included.

The Arts in Health Programme has been shown to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and reduce the need for pain medication (see attachment), as well as to create a more engaging, less sterile environment for everyone in the hospital. The atmosphere at the Creativity and Well-being event was buzzing with ideas about other ways to use this combination of art and technology - from providing digital interpretation of the art collection, to creating a portal to digital entertainment, to creating apps about treatments and procedures to inform and reassure patients.

So what next? We are developing our ideas with Chelsea and Westminster, and talking to arts participation managers across many health environments. We look forward to many new and exciting projects in this sector. In the first of these, next year, the Chelsea and Westminster Art Trail tour will be extended to include the fruits of another current project called Rhapsody. Specially commissioned pieces of music are being composed as I type by emerging contemporary composers, inspired by specific works in the collection.

I can’t wait to hear the results, and to taking the tour early next year!

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