Sci-Fi Music Therapy Part 3: Telemedicine, Telemusic therapy?

Every now and then, I see a piece of technology that looks straight out of Star Trek. Lately, I've been seeing a lot of medical technology that fits into this category. As a therapist, my mind always asks "What part could music therapy play with this?" Today, we're talking about Telemedicine technology. Be sure to catch parts 1 and 2 from last week!

What is it?

Telemedicine refers to technology that allows physicians to work from a remote location. Think telecommuting, but in hospitals. Companies such as InTouch Health make some hi-tech devices that not only make this practice possible, but help it thrive.

So what's so great about telemedicine? Don't we WANT our doctors to be by our bedside?

While proximity certainly is important in medical practice, there are times when access to expert clinical advice and knowledge isn't possible face-to-face. Perhaps a rural hospital needs the guidance of an expert in another state. Perhaps a patient in the ER needs immediate attention, and the doctor best suited to help them is at home, or even just on the other side of the hospital. Maybe a specialist in another city could see a patient with a rare disease without putting the patient through expensive medical transport.

It's really all about improving the quality of care while reducing costs.

InTouch Health overcomes some of the stumbling blocks of telemedicine by providing "remote-presence" robots. The device is a moving robot, featuring a video screen that displays the face of your physician, allowing patient and doctor to interact in real time, from any location in the world. Check out this video.


Perhaps the coolest thing this device can do is offer the ability for interdisciplinary teams to meet remotely with a patient. The screen can display multiple smaller screens featuring different physicians, nurses, and therapists. If you've ever tried to coordinate a meeting between multiple therapists for you or a child, you know how difficult this can be. Now the healthcare professionals simply need to sit at their desk with an iPad and they can meet with the team and patient and make group decisions regarding their care. That's the kind of technology that can spur a paradigm shift in healthcare. As the CEO of InTouch Health said in this blog post:

"We are realizing that if one can bring the right clinical expertise, to the right place, at the right time, to make the right medical decision in a cost effective manner; quality can be improved while cost lowered."

What role could music therapy play?

Increasingly, music therapists find themselves as integral parts of interdisciplinary teams. If a music therapist works at a hospital that owns one of these devices, all they need is an iPad to join in on team meetings with patients.

But what if we took it a step further? What if we could use these devices to provide music therapy services remotely? Telemusic therapy? Let's take a look at how that might work.

I imagine assisted living facilities for older adults using these devices for medical care of their patients. As having a music therapist travel out to these facilities, particularly those in remote locations, can prove costly, perhaps the music therapist could lead sessions from a central location. The therapist could facilitate multiple group and individual sessions in the span of a single morning across a vast geographical footprint.

In order to make this work, the facility would likely have to have a collection of small instruments usually brought by the therapist. I like using shakers and claves (wood sticks) in my sessions as it can improve interaction and provide opportunities for light exercise. Once the facility had a supply of instruments, the therapist could lead the session remotely just as they would in person. From the remote location, the therapist could play guitar, sing, and lead interventions, all from their desk.

Obviously, there are certain logistical needs to make this work. The device would need high quality speakers. Perhaps even integration with iTunes so that the therapist could queue up songs and have them played through the device remotely.

The big question is: how is this any different than showing a video of a music therapist leading songs?

We know that live music is most effective when facilitating therapeutic goals in music therapy, but what about live music makes it effective? Is it the vibrations coming from the guitar and therapist's voice? Not likely.

What makes live music effective is the therapist can tailor the music to the group or individual's needs. The tempo can be sped up or slowed down, spaces can be left to allow participants to fill in, eye contact from the therapist, and frequent personalized feedback keeps group members engaged.

The great thing about these devices that sets it apart from a simple webcam is the ability to direct the device throughout the space. When leading a group, I frequently use the space to increase my proximity to group members whose participation might be slipping. The close proximity and eye contact helps draw them into the group and keep everyone on task.

It will be fascinating to watch this technology develop and see just how personal these hi-tech robotics can make telemedicine. Holographic music therapists? We'll find out!

What do you think? Could telemusic therapy be feasible?

We might not be able to lead robotic music therapy sessions YET, but if you're in the Atlanta area, we'd love to show you what makes our music therapy groups so effective and popular. Let's talk!


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