Across the globe healthcare institutions are integrating arts programs to improve patient outcomes. This is great news for artists who have art that can be appreciated by healthcare patients and visitors.
Wall art that reflects nature or figurative subjects is most effective. It evokes positive emotions, promoting healing and comforting patients.
1. Enhances Cognitive Function
The healthcare industry is becoming more aware of the positive impact that artwork can have on patient outcomes. The industry is hiring design specialists and art consultants to find and curate artwork, commissioning artists to create art, bringing in art therapists and training their own staff in how to teach patients the therapeutic benefits of creating and viewing artwork.
Studies have shown that healthcare artwork can positively affect patients, visitors and staff members. Hospital rooms with paintings of landscapes, soothing abstract patterns and peaceful scenes have been shown to support a more positive cognitive outlook, which leads to better patient outcomes.
In the case of a hospital, patients are most often impacted by nature-inspired artwork because it evokes a sense of calming and wellbeing. The Biophilia Hypothesis, which asserts that humans have an innate affinity with nature, has been cited as evidence for the beneficial effects of healthcare artwork.
Research has also shown that art can distract patients from uncomfortable situations, generate memories, and address them on a personal level. For example, one study showed that the painting of a tree-filled field elicited feelings of remembrance and spirituality for a terminally ill patient (Table 4, N). In addition to enhancing cognitive function, healthcare artwork can help with navigation and wayfinding.
2. Reduces Stress
Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have moved away from the sterile hallways of the past and now include artwork in their hallways, patient rooms and waiting areas. While this seems like a simple decorative feature, there is a growing understanding that these features have direct links to patient outcomes.
Studies like Upali Nanda’s have shown that introducing artwork into the hospital environment has a direct impact on reducing patients’ anxiety levels and their need for medication to calm themselves. This can reduce the costs of a patient’s care and increase their overall satisfaction with their experience.
The Nanda study used a natural experiment design to collect data from patients using a real world setting and a small group of participants. In this way the results from this research can be considered of high ecological validity.
The study tested the effects of two different art types on self-reported stress and blood pressure levels. One was a realistic photograph and the other was a painting that was similar in content and composition to the photographic image but rendered abstract.
3. Increases Self-Regulation
The visual stimuli of healthcare artwork can help patients to regulate their physical and psychological responses. This can be seen in the decrease of stress and anxiety levels, as well as a reduction in the amount of pain medication needed. These positive effects of art in a healthcare environment can also reduce the cost of the facility’s medical services.
In a qualitative study, patients were observed over a two-week period in dayrooms that were either bare or adorned with paintings. During the first week, the patients were asked about their experiences and use of the space. Then, the rooms were reconfigured and the patients were interviewed again about their experience with the art. Using Nvivo to analyze the data, 63 recurrent themes were detected and categorized into 21 overall topics.
These recurrent themes suggest that while the patients were not explicitly aware of the artwork, it still had an impact on them, and the presence of art helped them to navigate their hospital stay and achieve better outcomes. These results suggest the importance of incorporating anthropological approaches in understanding how patients perceive and use art in hospitals.
4. Increases Satisfaction
Healthcare facilities have a reputation for being cold, uninspiring and unpleasant places to spend time. While some of that may have to do with disinfectant smells and sterile walls, much can be done to make hospitals more comfortable and enjoyable places to visit. Artwork is increasingly important in achieving those goals.
Studies have shown that healthcare artwork increases patient satisfaction. It can provide a pleasant distraction, create a sense of community and familiarity, inspire awe, set landmarks, support wayfinding, reinforce branding, and much more.
Hospitals should include art in their preliminary budgets and work with artists, designers, and architects early in the planning stages of renovations or new construction projects to create healthcare artwork that meets the facility’s needs.
One example of successful healthcare art is a series of murals by artist Hanneline Visnes at Samaritan Health Services hospitals in Corvallis, Oregon. The colorful, nature-themed pieces cover relatively large areas of wall and are well-received for their variety, depth and fine detail. Some staff have even expressed a light-hearted envy of clinics that do not have the same level of artwork.
5. Reduces Anxiety
Many patients and visitors find their experience in healthcare settings to be challenging, stressful or even disheartening. Adding visual art to these settings has been shown to improve the emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing of both staff and patients.
Healthcare facilities around the world are implementing artwork in their waiting areas, examination rooms and other public spaces. The majority of these are incorporating artwork that depicts beautiful landscapes and other peaceful scenes as they have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress.
In one study, patients were asked to rank 20 art pieces that had been exhibited in the waiting room where they were undergoing blood sampling. This ranking was done in order to lower bias and promote data collection on patient preferences.
While most patients did not consciously choose their positioning in relation to the art pieces, they were found to be using the artwork as a source of positive distraction. Some patients also reported that the art provided existential meaning, evoking memories and fulfilling spiritual aspirations in their lives. In addition, the artworks were perceived to facilitate socialization among other patients in the waiting rooms.