For hospital patients across the country, tuning in to a healing environment includes turning on the TV. Increasingly the programming of choice is a channel called Continuous Ambient Relaxation Environment, or C.A.R.E.
Reno, Nev.-based musician-entrepreneurs Susan Mazar and Dallas Smith developed the C.A.R.E. Channel to provide healthcare facilities with 24-hour, closed-circuit programming that promotes relaxation and contributes to a therapeutic environment. Through their company, Healing HealthCare Systems, Mazar and Smith have extended the C.A.R.E. Channel concept to include C.A.R.E. With Music for hospitals' public areas and C.A.R.E.-on-Hold for hospital telephone systems.
"The C.A.R.E. Channel is not HBO for sick people," says Mazar, who has performed as a harpist. "It is an environmental element that positively affects the quality of space." Viewers experience a selection of lush nature scenes accompanied by a soundtrack rich with woodwinds and harp. Both music tempo and images are cued to the clock, giving patients a sense of night and day. The cycle culminates in a luminous star-studded sky with music designed to calm the nerves and close the eyes.
Although the healing influence of music is not new-both Aristotle and Plato wrote about the topic-the concept didn't make the leap to television until 1992, when Mazar and Smith, who plays woodwinds, began brainstorming about how to bring the music they were performing and composing for hospitals across the country into individual rooms. Says Mazar: "We thought, what is the easiest technology to use as a music delivery system? It was obvious: the TV." Mazar and Smith then began to review available commercial videos, but they could not find a product they felt would be a good match for their music or mission.
"We were working with enough hospitals to know that there was an issue with circadian rhythms, and many of the existing videos had images that moved too quickly or were too confusing for people who were medicated," she explains.
So Mazar and Smith decided to produce their own programming.
"We wanted to provide a window to the outdoors for a patient who was otherwise confined," Mazar says, adding that they borrowed their guiding philosophy from legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams: "No fences, no telephone lines, no human element."
The C.A.R.E. Channel generally appeals most to hospital officials who believe in using building design and environmental elements to promote healing.
More than 100 hospitals in 30 states, ranging in size from 35 to 1,200 beds, use the C.A.R.E. Channel, including Texas Medical Center in Houston, Ochsner Clinic & Hospital in New Orleans and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
"There are other producers out there selling the video and music (combination), but none have the same pacing or the variation in content," says Dan Nathan, general manager of Raleigh-based TeleHealth Services, an industry television system distributor. TeleHealth recently signed a sales and marketing agreement with Healing HealthCare, and its national sales force is now promoting the C.A.R.E. Channel. Mazar declined to reveal sales figures but did say business has increased 40% this year.
At 181-bed St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Ore., the C.A.R.E. Channel was a natural fit with the lobby piano player, rooftop gardens and wheelchair-accessible fishing pond. "We share the same philosophy of healing healthcare (as Mazar and Smith)," spokesman Todd Sprague says. The hospital has offered the C.A.R.E. Channel since 1996, and also subscribes to C.A.R.E. With Music.
Eighty-bed Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., has been a client of the C.A.R.E. Channel since 1999. "It enhances rest time and downtime, which is really important to our patients," says Terry Chase, a patient education clinical specialist at the hospital. She believes the music helps drown out hospital sounds of staff conversations, clacking carts and beeping machines.
Setup fees for the C.A.R.E. Channel run about $8,000 per hospital. The channel operates through a customized digital file server, which comes preloaded with 60 hours of programming-enough, says Mazar, to ensure that a frame won't repeat until day nine. After installation, clients pay a monthly subscription fee of about $200; every 12 months, they can swap the existing hard drive for a new drive loaded with different programming. Mazar estimates total operating costs to average two to three cents per bed per day.
Sprague says it's money well spent at St. Charles. "It's not a lot of money in the long term or in the big picture," Sprague says, noting that the hospital's annual expenses run about $100 million per year. "If you think of it not as entertainment but as part of the care continuum, contributing to anxiety (management) and pain management, then it's an investment, not an expense."
The company's Web site is at www.healinghealth.com.