UF Arts in Medicine program helps speed healing through the arts

For over 20 years, the University of Florida Arts in Medicine program has been an industry leader in utilizing the arts to reduce costs and increase patient satisfaction in hospitals here, around the country and around the world.

The two-pronged program — in the College of Fine Arts and Shands, which has 16 staff artists — offers 17 courses and two certificates each for graduate and undergraduate students. The college is in the approval process for an MA in Arts in Medicine, which is on target for fall 2014.

“I think that what is such a model about it is the integration of the clinical aspect with the academic component,” said Lucinda Lavelli, the dean of the College of Fine Arts. “We’re so perfectly situated. So we have the ability to have fantastic curricula here for students to participate in and attend, from all over the world. And indeed this past summer, with a course that we offered, we had visitors here from as far away as Uganda. We always have an international population.”

On the other side is the clinical component, which has proven to lower costs. Lavelli said that in dollars and cents terms, arts in medicine is proven to reduce staff burnout, reduce the cost of medication and reduce length of stay for patients.

“We’re in the process now of implementing a study to see how live music can reduce the cost of care in the emergency department, and increase patient satisfaction, which has a huge economic impact as well,” Lavelli said. “And that’s supported by the state of Florida, which is really exciting.”

In hard numbers, dance administrator Jill Sonke said that one study out of FSU that looked at how 15 to 20 minutes of live music could calm children before CT scans reduced the cost by $567 per procedure, which included putting nursing staff back on the floor, almost eliminating the need for anesthesia and sedation, and totally eliminating overnight stays. The implication for that single procedure is $2.5 billion saved per year if hospitals invested in live musicians.

Another proven benefit that the program has garnered is a faster uptake in medicine for Parkinson’s patients who are up dancing. A coming study will measure linguistic and other neural benefits in those same patients.

The program is a highly collaborative effort. Staff must be involved with nurses, doctors, pharmacists and the patients themselves. A modest budget means that the program has had to forge strategic partnerships both here and internationally. The program’s wide range of opportunities allows students to get real hands-on experience that can translate into work once they graduate. The field has grown to the point where about half of the hospitals in the country have an arts in medicine program, according to Sonke.

“Certification is right around the corner,” she said. “A national exam is being developed and in 2014certification will provide a place for professional artists to work in health care. Shortly after that I project that we’ll be seen as an allied profession in health care and that will significantly increase employment opportunities for artists.”

Arts in Medicine has also been active in helping communities in developing nations, like Rwanda, to develop arts- and health-based cooperative businesses. In one community, a co-op run by women teaches women how to sew, paint and make pottery, which they then sell.

Another combines a bicycle-based taxi co-op with a health literacy program. Men ride their bikes around with painted plaques hanging on them that deliver health advice. It has grown to the point where they have acquired two motorcycles. The workers have all bought property and housing, pay for health insurance and are providing for all of the children in their extended families to go to school.

“Our programs really change people’s lives,” Sonke said. “We so often see, in both our participants and our artist facilitators the discovery, or rediscovery, that the arts just make you feel better, on every level. So when we remind people of that, to engage in the arts on a regular basis, we feel we’ve been successful.”


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