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VOL. 121 | NO. 136 | Thursday, July 6, 2006

Methodist Healthcare Brings Soothing Sights and Sounds to Patients

By Andy Meek

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CHANNELING PEACE: Methodist University Hospital Cancer Center patients like Robert Chow now can relax to the 24-hour Serenity Channel - a soothing alternative to standard TV fare. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

In counseling sessions, chaplain Mike Revord sometimes asks his most anguished patients in Methodist University Hospital's Cancer Center to forget they're in a hospital at all. He encourages them to talk about happier times and familiar places, rather than suffer in quiet desperation, the cacophony of a hospital room TV set their only relief.

Now, it's a little easier for patients to do that, thanks to a project the hospital recently launched. With the help of Memphis-based Lunar Productions, a full-service multimedia company, MUH now is offering certain patients something called the Serenity Channel.

It's an in-house TV station with 24-hour programming that features stirring images of nature and soothing music. The channel is broadcast to patients on select floors and in waiting areas at the University Hospital, 1265 Union Ave., with the goal of expanding the content and broadcasting it elsewhere - perhaps even the entire seven-hospital Methodist Healthcare system in the future.

More than noise

TEST RUN: Methodist University Hospital patients are the first to have access to the Serenity Channel. However, the goal is to broadcast it elsewhere, perhaps at all Methodist hospitals. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

Revord helped come up with the title for the channel. At MUH, he explained, it's not uncommon to walk the halls and hear TV programming blaring from patients' rooms, if only to allow the sound to fill gaps of silence.

"So we thought, if folks are going to be watching things just for the noise, why not offer them soothing images and music, at least to give them an alternative to some of the other programming they watch just because it's there?" Revord said.

The length of the show, broadcast repeatedly, currently is 55 minutes. Soon it will be longer, expanding on the more than 100 images now included in the carefully orchestrated slide show.

The Serenity Channel is not, however, a traditional slide show, in the sense that it's a little more than one image fading into another. Jonathan Shepherd, digital art director for Lunar Productions, said the goal was to present seamless edits, no distractions, a little motion here and there - something in which troubled patients could happily lose themselves.

Serenity Channel
At Methodist University Hospital, 1265 Union Ave.
24-hour calming music and video images
May expand to other Methodist hospitals

Shepherd snapped many of the photographs himself that are displayed on the Serenity Channel. It has been on-air in the hospital almost five months, after about a year of designing and creating the channel.

'Different way of thinking'

Karen Troutman, service line manager for oncology at the cancer center, recalled a recent MUH patient who was having trouble sleeping. She turned on the Serenity Channel, was able to put aside her worries and get some rest.

"And that's exactly what we were hoping for," Troutman said.

Shepherd, who's also an artist and makes television commercials, threw himself into taking and collecting photos and assembling them in a visually arresting way. His company also has done a large amount of media work for other community and health care organizations.

Lunar Productions won two 2006 Vox Awards, a designation that recognizes public relations work in the Memphis area. In April, at the Memphis Jewish Foundation's 44th ceremony held to commemorate the Holocaust, attendees watched a video of oral histories by survivors. The video was prepared by Lunar Productions.

Before he knew it, Shepherd said, the Serenity Channel project took on a life of its own.

"They were open to this unique idea of kind of cultivating something that gives patients something to focus on that's not mind-numbingly boring - that gives them something to do, but is also therapeutic," he said. "It's a different way of thinking for the medical industry. Karen Troutman and Jeremy Cook (MUH director of clinical engineering) have really been believers."

Medicine for the mind

Once Methodist officials hooked up with Lunar Productions, they began polling hospital staff in the cancer center to come up with ideas for relaxing images. Basic ideas were culled from that polling, as well as from Shepherd's stock photography.

Lately, hospitals on a national scale have been jumping at the chance to transform linoleum-tiled, all-white patient rooms into storehouses of artwork and pleasant, life-affirming décor.

At Mercy Therapeutic Radiology Associates LLC, in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, radiation treatment rooms feature a state-of-the-art sound system so patients can enjoy music. Virtual windows are painted with a variety of cityscapes, and artwork is displayed on the ceilings.

Other hospitals are providing meditation and massage therapy to patients.

What Methodist has done, Revord said, goes one step further than that: The Serenity Channel taps into an individual's spirituality, even as it encourages relaxation for patients.

"There's a lot of research out there that talks about the value of peaceful scenes and images," Revord said. "With this, we really tried to create an environment that's physically quiet and soothing, as well as internally quiet and soothing. And that enhances the body's ability to do its natural work to respond to treatments."

Troutman said phase two of the Serenity Channel multimedia project already is under way.

"The (production) spot is literally getting longer as we speak," she said.

And Revord already has found in the broadcast a powerful ally to use in his counseling sessions. Employing visualization techniques is part and parcel of his mission, wherein he asks patients to close their eyes and imagine any host of images.

Now, they don't have to close their eyes.

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