University of Vermont

Implementation of Music during Surgical Procedures: Graff Combines Passion for Music and Medicine

Veena Graff, M.D., Pain Medicine Fellow, UVM Department of Anesthesiology (Photo: COM Design & Photography)

Veena Graff, M.D., loves music; it relaxes her and can boost her mood. The University of Vermont Health Network anesthesiologist – who’s classically trained in piano and violin and is also a DJ – recognized that music could do the same for patients undergoing surgery. Graff first dug up studies and data that supported her theory that music can reduce anxiety pre-operatively and can reduce medication consumption throughout the surgical period. Therefore, she decided to launch a project that allows patients to listen to music during their surgical period.

“It improves the patient’s experience considerably,” she says.

Last year, while still an anesthesiology resident, Graff was invited as a guest speaker at the quarterly CEO meeting to give a talk, titled “The Role of Music in the Perioperative Setting,” where she mentioned her idea about implementing music to the hospital executives in attendance. John Brumsted, M.D., UVM Medical Center CEO, encouraged her to write a proposal for her project, following which she received funding from philanthropy to the UVM Medical Center Annual Fund, which supports innovative ideas for family- and patient-centered care and research.

That support has provided high-quality, noise-cancelling headphones for patients in the perioperative area. Graff checked with the medical center’s hygiene staff to make sure the headphones would not cause contamination and learned they were safe and posed no greater risk than blood-pressure cuffs that are used on patients.

While she originally also planned to buy media players for patients, she has halted that step for now, assuming that the majority of patients already carry around smartphones that have capabilities to play music.

“We are in a tech savvy world where almost everybody has this feature,” Graff says, holding up her smartphone.

The program, which launched at the end of October, includes the implementation of signage in the pre-op area, which asks patients, “Can you listen to music on your phone? Do you need a pair of headphones? If so, talk to your nurse! We at The University of Vermont Medical Center encourage YOU to listen to music before, during, and after your procedure.”

In addition, the anesthesiology preoperative telephone clinic encourages patients to bring in their own media players to listen to music during their surgical period. The surgical handbook that patients take home before surgery now includes a flyer about Graff’s project. Patients who request headphones receive them in plastic bags featuring labels that read, “For your listening pleasure.”

Graff’s primary goal is not only to provide a better experience for patients, but also to change the culture of the perioperative setting to allow patients to listen to music.

“It’s an intervention that is virtually harm-free,” says Graff about allowing personal music to improve patients’ comfort. Now, she adds, “It really is about spreading the word.”

She received approval from UVM’s Institutional Review Board to conduct a research study to measure outcomes resulting from her project’s implementation.

Graff is currently a pain medicine fellow at the Center of Pain Medicine at UVM Medical Center. Once her fellowship is completed at the end of June 2016, she will begin a faculty position as an anesthesiologist and pain medicine physician at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn.