Nancy O‚Brien is not a nurse or a doctor but the face of an evolving health-care industry in which the serene sounds of her melodious harp, poetry written by patients, even soft lighting and comfy surroundings are believed to be important parts of healing.

O‚Brien, a music therapist, could go on about her success stories for hours ˆ the angry man at a rehab facility who was so agitated when she first met him she thought he might punch her.

Or the children who received cardiac catheterization as she played to calm them during their procedures, or the patients in one psychiatric facility who were allowed to experiment with music ˆ all were soothed, comforted, and even healed by the power of music and art.

Those involved with health care have been saying for decades that artistic expression and welcoming environments can make a pivotal difference for ailing patients, but now that message is going mainstream.

The statistics touted at the 15th annual Society for the Arts in Healthcare conference were impressive: In a survey of 2,500 hospitals, 96 percent reported that they invested in the arts to serve patients, 78 percent use the arts to create a healing environment and a majority employ arts coordinators.

„We are now moving towards a dramatic shift from arts in health care being something hospitals should do to something they have got to do,‰ says Blair L. Sadler, president and CEO of Children‚s Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.

Sadler points to a variety of empirical research.

One such study included recent findings which showed that 88 percent of children receiving CT scans and 98 percent of children receiving an echocardiogram needed no sedation when a guitarist played songs during their procedure.

What‚s more, the music‚s calming effects on the children cut down on the time it took to conduct the procedures, and over a year‚s time saved the hospital $250,000 due to because of reduced costs for nursing and other staff.

„So a big part of this change in attitude is that now those in health care see having art makes business sense as well as helps patients,‰ he says.

O‚Brien says she was impressed by the way her field is changing.

„There is, of course, a need for more research, but I always knew what I was doing was working,‰ she says, „because I have seen it help people for years.‰