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Is AI Music the Best Medicine?

Is AI Music the Best Medicine?
05/07/2021
bbc.com

Photo: Getty Images

bbc.com

MediMusic is a company based in Hull with big ambitions to transform healthcare with its music technology. It claims that by using artificial intelligence to craft playlists suited to an individual patient, it can reduce anxiety and pain.

The company's founder Gary Jones tells Tech Tent that MediMusic has developed algorithms which generate a playlist of up to 400 tracks designed to have a measurable effect on a patient.

"They put the headphones on, they listen to the music, and over a period of time, what will happen is that their heart rate will reduce, blood pressure will reduce, the production of the stress hormone cortisol will reduce," he says.

A heart rate monitor worn on the wrist measures the physiological effect on the patient and MediMusic says its Digital Drip system uses machine learning to swap tracks in the playlist if the listener does not respond as expected.

The NHS in Lancashire is taking an interest, trialing the technology in hospitals with patients and healthcare workers.

Dr. Jacqueline Twamley, innovation manager at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, described the way the system had been tested with dementia patients: "If we know something's going to be challenging for a patient, or a patient is going to get restless, we can then try the music system before that and see if it helps to keep them settled."

She says the music brought out a variety of emotions.

"Some patients are saying they were sad when it ended. We had one patient who burst out crying, which was alarming. But he said afterwards it brought back such happy memories."

But Dr. Twamley says there were also measurable effects, with reductions in heart rate and levels of cortisol.

MediMusic says dementia patients saw reductions of up to 22% in their heart rate and makes the extraordinary claim that its technology could help the NHS cut medication bills in some areas by up to a quarter.

But is there any proof that an AI-designed playlist is more effective than just popping on the patient's favorite tracks? Gary Jones insists that research shows that your own choice of music won't necessarily reduce your heart rate, and is confident his technology will end up being prescribed to both patients and stressed medical staff.

Big claims are made for the savings artificial intelligence can deliver in all sorts of industries. But healthcare providers will want to have much more data on the positive effects of music before investing in systems like this.

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