Music in the Operating Room Could Improve Surgery

By Kiona Smith-Strickland on at

When surgeons listen to music they like, they’re more efficient at closing incisions, and their technique improves, according to a new study.

Researchers asked 15 plastic surgery residents at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to close incisions in pigs’ feet. In the first trial, half the residents worked in a silent operating room, but the other half got to listen to music of their choice while they stitched. For the second trial, the two groups switched.

Surgeons listening to music completed the stitches about 8% faster, on average, than those working without a soundtrack. Music seemed to make a bigger difference for more experienced surgeons; senior residents closed the incisions while listening to their chosen music finished the work 10% faster than other senior residents.

Andrew Zhang, assistant professor of surgery in the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at UTMB, and his coauthor Shelby Lies, UTMB’s chief plastic surgery resident, published their work in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Speed matters, because faster surgeries reduce the time each patient spends on the table, under general anaesthesia. “Longer duration under general anaesthesia is also linked with increased risk of adverse events for the patient,” said Lies in a UTMB press release, so reducing that time could lead to better outcomes for patients. Shorter surgical times also reduce surgical costs, especially in procedures where closing the incision is the most time-consuming part of the process.

But what about quality? UTMB faculty members, in a blind test, said that residents did better quality work when they closed incisions with musical accompaniment.

Music is already pretty common in operating rooms. Studies say music reduces stress for surgeons, which is clearly a good thing in the long run, but no one had studied whether music in the operating room actually improved surgeons’ performance — until now. Of course, this study compared surgeons working with music they liked to those working with no music at all, so it’s not clear what happens when surgeons operate to the tune of music they don’t care about or actively dislike.

And that may be an important point. A 2012 study found that patients having minor surgeries benefited from listening to classical music during the procedure. They had less anxiety and lower breathing rates during the surgery and recovered more quickly afterwards. On the other hand, the patients in that study were awake for their procedures, using only local anaesthesia, so it’s not clear whether unconscious patients would somehow benefit from classical music.

So the next time you have surgery, just hope your doctor isn’t into disco.

[UTMB, Aesthetic Surgery Journal]