Each year a diverse group of artists, entrepreneurs and technologists join policy and business thought leaders from around the globe in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest conference and festival. This broad intersection of perspectives and personalities has proven to be fertile ground for big ideas to take root and thrive.

It is within this context that Wellstar Health System participated in the Health & Med Tech track to share how using immersive sound technology in a series of wellness rooms is helping frontline healthcare workers reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. This initiative is the result of a partnership between award-winning immersive audio company and software service Spatial, and Catalyst by Wellstar, Wellstar’s global digital health and innovation center.

During the panel, “Redefining Healing Experiences with Sound,” Dr. Hank Capps, executive vice president and chief information and digital officer at Wellstar, shared how impactful the wellness rooms have been to frontline healthcare team members.

“The idea of bringing immersive sound into the wellness rooms and inviting team members who were in the midst of stress, in the midst of a battle, was one of the ways we believed we could make a difference. We went live with the wellness rooms earlier this year to unexpected success and utilization, beyond what we could have pictured,” said Dr. Capps.

To help make this impact, the team was challenged to find ways to foster a calming environment without the use of screens, such as TVs. During a 12-hour shift of the near-constant monitoring of vital signs and patient records on computers and mobile devices, screens were something the team was looking to subtract, not add. This insight led to the innovative use of immersive sound technology invisibly imbedded within the walls of the wellness rooms. Team members can choose from a variety of soundscapes and transport themselves virtually to a calm beach, a rainforest with birds gently chirping, or to the bottom of the ocean.

The evidence-based use of sound/music to reduce stress and anxiety is well-documented but patients and consumers are largely unaware of it. In fact, a recent nationwide survey revealed that while only 28% of respondents were aware that sound/music is being used in targeted ways to improve physical and mental well-being, 73% were open to incorporating it as a therapy.

Increasing awareness could help this technology achieve wider adoption. With this pilot project, Wellstar became the first health system to incorporate immersive audio technology with Spatial in a clinical setting.

The response from team members has exceeded expectations.

The four wellness rooms equipped with Spatial technology have been used thousands of times in just over one month of operation. Initial data and anecdotal evidence suggest this component of the wellness rooms is particularly useful in helping Wellstar team members reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. As more is learned from this pilot, the team hopes to expand the use of this technology in patient-facing settings such as labor and delivery rooms or emergency department waiting areas.

Catalyst by Wellstar defines leading-edge, transformative solutions that enhance the health and well-being of people and communities with world-class results and impact. It is particularly meaningful that one of Catalyst’s first pilot projects is enhancing the well-being of people who have given so much of themselves in the service of their communities throughout the pandemic—Wellstar team members.

Catalyst by Wellstar at SXSW 2022