Monday 22 April 2013, 11:32 | By

Aspirations for collaboration between Creative Skills For Life and the Human Metabolism Research Unit UHCW

CSL Invites

Creativity at its core implicates the use of the imagination or original ideas, and is manifest in a multitude of forms. Humans are unique in having a highly developed capacity for creativity, and this is what sets us apart from other species, and what has enabled us to establish our modern civilisation. Creativity is also integral to our greatest achievements. In short, creativity is what makes us human.

Tom Barber

The utilisation of creativity in health and disease is an under researched, and perhaps under-appreciated field that has huge potential. Unfortunately, our traditional view of medicine is based largely on a therapy (often pharmacological in the form of a pill, surgical intervention or some other form like radiotherapy for example) being administered to the patient by a healthcare professional.

This paternalistic view of medicine needs to change and adapt to align itself with advances in modern day technology, so that opportunities to develop and deliver healthcare in novel and exciting ways are realised. This evolution in healthcare delivery is important to optimise the health and wellbeing of the population.

One subgroup of our population that is particularly important includes young people who suffer from a terminal and/or disabling conditions. The needs of this subgroup, that has become much more populous in recent years, stand out like a flame. Although the population as a whole is becoming more techno-savvy, it has been shown in recent surveys that young people are more likely to possess a mobile device, and mobile technology has become interwoven particularly into the culture of young people. It therefore makes sense to utilise the accessible and versatile portal of mobile technology in a way that can enhance and enrich people’s lives, particularly in the delivery of healthcare to the younger population.

I feel privileged to be working with Creative Skills For Life on such an exciting and innovative collaborative project. It is difficult to conceive of a more worthy cause than to improve the lives of our young people with terminal and/or disabling conditions. As a doctor myself, and having worked in the NHS for 10 years, I am all too aware of the limits of traditionally-applied medicine, and the potential for innovative means of healthcare delivery. In this collaborative pilot study, we will be exploring the effects of music therapy, delivered via a mobile platform, on human physiology, sleep quality, metabolism and hormonal profiles.

We will also explore the effects of music therapy on the alleviation of mental stress (associated with modern daily living). There is no doubt that music can have a profound effect on psyche, emotions and mood and one purpose of this study is to explore this link further in one of the most comprehensive and detailed studies in this field to date. Following the pilot study on healthy volunteers, we will invite young people with terminal illnesses to take part also. The studies will be performed in the Human Metabolism Research Unit (HMRU) at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW). HMRU is jointly funded by the University of Warwick, UHCW NHS Trust and the Science City Alliance. HMRU is a 1.5M investment and contains two of the world’s most advanced whole-body calorimeters that will form an essential element of this proposal, and enable its successful execution.

Through this project, we hope to be able to demonstrate engagement of young people in a creative way with applications designed for a mobile device. Although the pilot study will focus on music, future studies will not be limited to this medium but will explore the whole spectrum of creativity. We hope to show objective improvements in levels of anxiety, stress, mental functioning and emotionality resulting from creative engagement with mobile applications. The data generated from our project however will potentially have far-reaching implications for the NHS in general that extend well beyond the focus of our study.

It has long been known that mental functioning (including psyche, emotionality and general well-being) closely associates with physical health. Stress for example predisposes to infection through effects of raised cortisol on the immune system, and there are many other complex mechanisms at play. It follows therefore, that if demonstrable evidence is generated to support the beneficial effects on mental functioning of engagement with creative mobile applications, this is proof of concept that such an effect may pertain in the general population (including patients within the NHS). One example in which our data could represent a potentially substantial cost-saving to the NHS is through reducing in-patient stay through encouragement of in-patients to engage with such creative mobile applications during convalescence from an acute illness.

This would represent a completely novel, applicable and practical approach to improving the quality of patient care within the NHS, especially those living with long-term conditions, and in the process saving money through reducing in-patient stay. Another potential cost-saving to the NHS would be to reduce the number of in-patient admissions with acute illness. Improved mental functioning and well-being of the general population (including those with chronic illness) through engagement with creative mobile applications would be expected to have such an effect and there are many potential mechanisms including reduced forgetfulness resulting from reduced stress (relevant in patients on insulin and admissions resulting from insulin errors for example). Therefore, creative engagement with mobile applications holds the potential for improvements in quality of life and well-being for its users, but also as a result of this effect may represent an important cost-saving for the NHS through the mechanisms outlined.

Our aspirations for future studies include opening up the potential for exploring the whole range of creative processes that can be delivered via a mobile application (including, for example, laughter therapy). The effects of creativity on health-related outcomes (including longevity and morbidity) will be explored in greater detail, including long-term effects on stress and quality of life, particularly in those young patients with terminal and/or disabling conditions. Ultimately, we hope to combine creativity with mobile technology to effect a cultural change within the NHS, to facilitate momentum in a truly innovative direction that we hope will ultimately result in improvements in quality of care and quality of life.

Dr Thomas Barber is CSL’s Honorary Research Lead and Associate Professor, Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist and Clinical Lead for the Human Metabolism Research Unit at the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW).