CVS Will Soon Change Its Hold Music, Thrilling Harvard Psychiatrist Who Begged It To

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FILE- This Dec. 3, 2017, file photo shows a CVS Pharmacy in the Brooklyn borough of New York. CVS Health reports earnings Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE- This Dec. 3, 2017, file photo shows a CVS Pharmacy in the Brooklyn borough of New York. CVS Health reports earnings Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

There are more than 400 CVS pharmacies in Massachusetts, nearly 10,000 nationwide. If you call one and need to wait on hold, you hear this staticky, scratchy piano music:

That once-sweet melody has been the hold music at CVS pharmacies for nearly two decades. But it is about to change — and no one could be happier about that news than a certain Harvard psychiatrist.

Dr. Steven Schlozman is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and that means he often has to spend time on hold dealing with prescriptions for his patients. A lot of time on hold.

He calculates that over the course of his career, he's called CVS for his patients an average of three times a day, and listened to that piano music for about a minute and a half each time.

"And when I did the numbers" — while on hold, of course — "that worked out to 25 days of my life on this planet," he says, "and that's too much for any one tune to be listened to."

So last May, Schlozman wrote a humorous post for us here begging CVS to please, please change its hold music. It went viral. Schlozman was invited on to "Good Morning America." The front page of the Wall Street Journal printed his complaint that though the music is meant to be soothing, "after the three billionth time it’s particularly unsoothing."

That story included some people who said they liked the music, but Schlozman was encouraged. "The feedback I got was universally positive," he says. "People were like, 'This is funny but you have a good point. It's time for this music to change.' "

And now, CVS says it will.

In response to a WBUR query, a CVS spokesperson emailed: "CVS Pharmacy is in the process of updating the interactive voice response phone system in our stores, including the on-hold music. We expect this work to be completed later in 2019."

Dr. Schlozman, who is also associate director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is "absolutely delighted" to hear the news.

"I think this is a very small thing, but a really, really good thing, and I'm not trying to be ironic here at all," he says. "This is a multi[billion]-dollar corporation, CVS, but they listened to what their customers had to say and they made a change. That's the way it's supposed to work, and I'm glad for whatever small role I played in it."


The CVS spokesperson, asked if Schlozman's campaign to change the music had anything to do with the company's decision, emailed: "Not really. Plans were already under way to enhance the phone system, and the music is only one element of the system."

CVS says the new system is still being developed, and it's not clear right now whether it will have hold music. If it does, though, what should the music be?

Schlozman says he loves classic rock, but others love Broadway show tunes or Gregorian chants. So maybe the music should constantly change.

"Wouldn't it be cool if, every time you get put on hold by CVS, you hear something new and different?" he asks. "That would be fun. That would be kind of a little spice to your day."

This segment aired on March 8, 2019.


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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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