Walk into any radiology reading room, and you may see several radiologists with headphones plugged into iPhone music. Others are constantly shushing other residents, chatting amongst themselves in the reading room. These rads hate the moment that excess noise comes their way. This divergence of opinions on the matter is enormous. So, should we concentrate solely on 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 look at several relevant articles and weigh the body of evidence to come up with a conclusion.
Music As Potential Benefactor In The Radiology Department
As I was combing through the internet, I came across several interesting positive articles on noise and productivity. However, overall, the scientific power of the studies was pretty weak. One particular study 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 statistically significant positive effects were upon mood and work satisfaction. One physician even stated that there was a subjective improvement in concentration and interpretative abilities. However, it had a low number of included participants and didn’t look at the actual performance of the radiologists. So, I’m not sure if the results are that relevant.
One abstract in the literature with a slightly higher number of participants (26 radiologists) looked at acoustic noise within clinical departments and radiology performance. This study concluded that acoustic noise found in most radiology departments is not a distraction from work. However, this is not a direct study about music and reading films. Although a small study, the paper suggests 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, electronic, video games, and low-volume ambient music as the most helpful. Nevertheless, the scientific literature did not back it up.
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 data behind the study, but it would be interesting to arrive at a reading room that sounds like a waterfall or a windy day. That could make me a bit more efficient and relaxed… But perhaps a bit sleepy as well!
A Case Report About Music And Performance
Nototallyrad.blogspot.com had an interesting expose on reading ICU chest films where he spoke specifically about his productivity based on different types of music in an unscientific format. He concluded that he was most efficient when listening to Bach instead of Metallica, White Noise, and Red Stick Ramblers! Call me crazy. But, if I listened to Metallica while reading anything, not only would I have a difficult time reading cases, I may come home with a headache!!!
Music As A Disruptor of Radiologist Concentration
Much of the literature regarding noise/music and adverse effects upon performance is not specific 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 look at the psychological literature, several negative articles reported on the radiologist regarding noise, music, and performance.
The first one, The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance, supported that performance scores were higher in silence than in all types of music conditions. That performance deteriorated as the intensity of the music increased. The kind of music did not affect performance, 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 psychologically-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, a sociological study looked at the relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Although not specific to music, it had a significantly higher number of participants (1839 surveys). Moreover, it could potentially be relevant to the radiologist. The result was that multitasking with social media and academics could lead to a lower GPA. Although there is no direct link in this article between listening to music and radiologist performance, one can conclude that music is multitasking and can just as well interfere with radiology performance.
The Lone Radiology Resident Study- A Mixed Result
Finally, there was an article explicitly dedicated to the radiology resident! It specifically looked at resident detection of rib fractures. They divided eight radiology resident readers into two groups- one 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 who usually read in silence had improved performance in silence, and those unaffected by noise had improved performance with noise. Again, not such a robust study, but interesting nonetheless.
So What Is The Preponderance Of Evidence?
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. 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 more substantial evidence that music has no effect or improved effect upon radiology reads, read films with music at your peril!