St. Elizabeth's Hospital
St. Elizabeth's Hospital (pictured) is one of 70 hospitals that is part of the Pebble Project. Pebble Project use evidence-based design to restyle and report results. The Center For Healthcare Desi

Opera and classical music may help patients recover from surgery by boosting the immune system, according to new research that looked into the role music played as mice recovered from heart transplants.

Recovering mice survived over twice as long when listening to opera or Mozart than heart-transplanted mice who listened to single tones or New Age artist Enya, a research team from Japan and China found.

The Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery published the study online Friday.

Anecdotal evidence has long contended that a patient's environment plays a role in their recovery. Doctors, nurses and patients give examples of larger windows having a calming effect, more nurses reassuring patients and art reducing stress and depression.

But are those anecdotes true? More and more researchers are performing studies to try and see the effect sounds, pictures, room layout and other environmental factors have on patients in a controlled environment.

Although it may seem obvious that the area in which a patient recovers will affect his or her healing, we need research evidence to help guide all the decisions in hospital design, Dr. Amy Drahota, research fellow at the University of Portsmouth and lead author of a study that examined how environmental factors affected patient recovery, said in a statement about her study.

Fewer than 100 scientific studies existed on the relationship between environmental factors and patient recovery in 1998, according to Healthcare Design Magazine. By 2008, there were 1,200.

Research has linked poor design to anxiety, delirium, elevated blood pressure, and increased intake of [painkillers], according to a British Medical Association report. Healthcare building design should extend beyond functional efficiency, marketing and cost. It should promote wellness by creating physical surroundings that are psychologically supportive.

However, Dr. Drahota questioned whether current studies show the full picture. She analyzed hundreds of papers on the correlation between environment and recovery and had trouble finding studies she said were adequately performed.

We even have some reservations about the studies we did find because their quality is not as good as it could be, she said in a statement. So, despite the large volume of information ... we're calling for more high-quality studies looking at the different components of hospital design in order to make better informed decisions on how to design or refurbish our hospitals in the future.

Drahota concluded that though music has a positive effect on patients, there are not very many well-designed studies to help with making evidence-based design decisions.

Many hospitals use peer-reviewed studies as guidelines to restyle hospitals, called evidence-based design. The Center for Health Design, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve hospital design, partnered with over 70 healthcare settings worldwide as part of its Pebble Project, launched in 2000.

Pebble Project hospitals incorporate evidence-based design and report results to give other hospitals an opportunity to assess whether the design is effective both from a patient and monetary standpoint.

Several studies concluded that evidence-based design in existing hospitals is cost effective. Hospitals recover design-related investments within three years, according a report by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance healthcare in doctor offices, hospitals and at home. Researchers concluded that there is a compelling business case for building better, safer hospitals through evidence-based design.

Creating these environments is now within our grasp, the authors wrote. All we need is the creativity, courage, and discipline to utilize cost-effective design interventions that work. Hospital leaders have an opportunity and an obligation to assure that, whether patients are in their care for an hour, a day, a week, or a year, they are providing care in an optimal healing environment.