Reading Room Background Music- A Hazard For Patient Care?
Walk into any radiology reading room and you may see several radiologists with headphones on their ears plugged into an iPhone, playing their favorite tunes. Others are constantly shushing other residents that are chatting amongst themselves in the reading room, hating the moment that excess noise comes their way. This lead me to think: Should we have all our concentration dedicated to the findings on the film and ban all music/noise from the reading room? Or, does music help radiologists to notice things they may have not as seen otherwise? Let’s take a walk through this topic together by looking at several relevant articles and weighing the body of evidence to try come up with a final conclusion.
Music As Potential Benefactor In The Radiology Department
As I was combing through the internet, I came across several interesting positive articles on the noise and productivity. However overall, the scientific power of the studies was fairly weak. There was one study in particular that emphasized radiologists and it was an interesting article in Science Daily. It summarized an American Roentgen Ray Society abstract. The study took eight radiologists and looked at how baroque classical music affects mood, concentration, perceived diagnostic accuracy, and work satisfaction. It concluded that the most stastically significant positive effects were upon mood and work satisfaction. One physician even stated that there was a subjective improvement in concentration and interpretative abilities. On the other hand, it had a low number of included participants and didn’t really look at the actual performance of the radiologists. So, I’m not sure if the results are really that relevant.
One abstract in the literature with a slightly higher number of participants (26 radiologists), looked at acoustic noise within clinical departments and the effect upon radiology performance. This study concluded that acoustic noise found in most radiology departments are not distractors from work. However, this is not a direct study about music and reading films. Allowing for a small study size, it can suggest that there is no harm in listening to music and reading chest images.
Another article went through different types of music that are best for immersive tasks, but are not specific to radiology. I think you can extrapolate these genres to radiology because radiology reading rooms are an immersive environment. Interestingly, it listed baroque classical music, electronic music, video game music, and low volume ambient music as the most helpful. But, this was not backed up by the scientific literature.
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America released a paper stating that natural sounds may “enhance cognitive functioning, ability to concentrate, and increase worker satisfaction.” I didn’t see the hard data behind the study, but it would be interesting to arrive at a reading room that sounds like a waterfall or a blustery day. That could make me a bit more efficient and relaxed… But perhaps a bit sleepy as well!
Nototallyrad.blogspot.com had an interesting expose on reading ICU chest films where he spoke specifically about his own productivity based on different types of music in an unscientific format. He came to the conclusion that he personally was most efficient when he listened to Bach as opposed to Metallica, White Noise, and Red Stick Ramblers! Call me crazy… but if I was to have to listen to Metallica while reading anything, not only would I be have a difficult time reading cases, but I may come home with a headache!!!
Music As A Disruptor of Radiologist Concentration
Much of the literature regarding noise/music and negative effects upon performance is not dedicated specifically to the radiologist. These articles tend to be a bit more powerful, but are certainly not complete. We can try to extrapolate from these articles the relevance to the radiologist. Specifically, if you take a look at the psychological literature, there were several negative articles relevant to the reading radiologist in regards to noise and music and performance. The first one called The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance supported that performance scores were higher in silence than all types of music conditions. and that performance deteriorated as the intensity of the music increased. The type of music did not have an effect upon performance, rather just the intensity of the music. Again, the sample size was not that large and other biases were present that could alter the applicability of the results.
Another psychological based article called The Effect of Background Music and Background Noise on the Task Performance of Introverts and Extroverts, looked at 10 participants and the effect of music with high arousal potential and negative affect, music with low arousal potential and positive affect, and everyday noise on cognitive task performance of introverts and extraverts. Similar to the previous study, performance was worse with background noise compared to silence. There was also differing performance among introverts and extraverts (I’m not sure how relevant that part would be toward radiologists!)
Outside of the psychological literature, there was a sociological study that looked at the relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Although not specific to music, it had a significantly higher number of participants (1839 surveys were filled out) and could have some potential relevance to the radiologist. The end result was that multitasking with social media and academics can lead to lower GPA. Although there is no direct link in this article between listening to music and radiologist performance, one can conclude that music is a sort of multitasking and can just as well interfere with radiology performance.
The Lone Radiology Resident Study- A Mixed Result
Finally, there was an article dedicated specifically to the radiology resident! It specifically looked at resident detection of rib fractures. They divided 8 radiology resident readers into two groups- one that was accustomed to reading in quiet environments and another group that reported to be unaffected by noise. It turned out that the resident’s attitude toward noise affected the detection of rib fractures. Those residents that normally read in silence had improved performance in silence and those residents that were unaffected by noise had improved performance with noise. Again, not such a powerful study, but interesting nonetheless.
Although the higher power studies currently lean toward music as an overall detractor of potential radiologist performance, there are no strict guidelines in either direction. In fact, you can still make an argument in some cases that music can help some radiologists get through the day in a better mood, if nothing else. However, until there is some stronger evidence that music has no effect or improved effect upon radiology reads, read films with music at your own peril!