Patients with serious illness may suffer difficult symptom burden, including anxiety, dyspnea and loneliness that requires multi-modal management. Family and health care team members caring for these patients also often experience feelings of helplessness, anxiety and depression. 

Music Aids in Symptom Palliation

Music-thanatology is a specialty of symptom palliation that recognizes music has the capacity to comfort the body, mind and spirit. Harps of Comfort is a collaborative partnership between the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and the Medical Intensive Care Unit and a group of harpists from around the country. 

Harps of Comfort offered virtual music sessions via remote technology to aid in patient, family and care team symptom palliation. This partnership was subsequently expanded to include three acute care units and an intensive care unit (ICU) in our Community Hospital Division.

Virtual Music Sessions Provided at No Cost

Funding was received to provide music sessions at no cost to patients Monday-Friday from noon-5 p.m. A process was developed to obtain permission for the virtual sessions granted by patients or their loved ones. Sessions were arranged by a bedside nurse with coordination between the unit’s clinical nurse specialist and the on-call harpist for the day. Harps of Comfort played more than 350 virtual sessions.

Harps Help Patients Experience Calming Symptoms

The impact to patient care was captured through feedback from patients, family members and nursing staff. Nurses report patients that were restless, anxious, short of breath or in pain fell asleep within minutes of Harps of Comfort playing. One nurse said, “I think this has been a very useful tool for our patients. The music helps in many ways, including helping them feel less ‘alone’ during a very frightening experience.” 

The harpists were also impacted by this collaboration. 

One harpist said, “it is deeply meaningful to experience the presence that is possible with those who are attending remotely. Music and presence are not bound by space.”