• cluster analysis;
  • intensive care unit;
  • music therapy;
  • nurses;
  • nursing

Aims.  To determine whether definable subtypes exist within a cohort of patients listening to music with regard to their physiological patterns and to compare whether associated factors vary between subjects in groups with different profiles.

Background.  The intensive care unit (ICU) is one of the most stressful environments for patients among various clinical settings in a hospital. ICU patients are not only compromised by illness but also faced with a wide range of stressors.

Design.  A repeated-measures design was conducted with one music group.

Method.  One hundred and one patients were recruited in three intensive care units in Hong Kong. There were two main outcome variables: demographic characteristics and physiological outcomes.

Results.  A cluster analysis yielded two clusters. Patients in cluster 1 typically experienced relatively low therapeutic effects from listening to music. There were more males, of a younger age but more educated and employed than patients in cluster 2, and they represented 41·6% of the total respondents. Cluster 2 comprised almost 58·4% of this study sample and they reported high therapeutic effects of music. There were more females in this group as well as more older people and they mainly used a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

Conclusion.  Our study shows that music may have a more positive effect on groups of patients whose profile is similar to that of the patients in cluster 2, than for patients such as those in cluster 1. A clear profile may help health professionals to design appropriate care therapy to target a specific group of patients to improve their physiological outcomes.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The implication of this study is that music therapy should be provided to patients as a relaxation technique if they are willing to accept it, and the selection of music should be based on their preferences. Information should be given to patients so that they can understand how music therapy works and they should be encouraged to focus their attention on listening to the music to maximise its benefits.