The Fascinating Way Patients Interact with Art in Hospitals

Jan 10, 2019

lanscape art

When searching for art to place in a healthcare facility, particularly a hospital, one of the biggest mistakes management teams and designers can make is taking the “easy route.” They source budget prints to hang on walls, often lumping the pieces in with furniture and other bulk purchases. There is little thought behind the selection of pieces and their placement; sometimes designers just want to get something on the wall. What is placed within a facility and the “why” behind its placement tends to be an afterthought. But there are evidence-based studies that demonstrate the important role art plays in patient satisfaction and (indirectly) the overall success of a facility. Whether this refers to a painting, a sculpture, or the graphics placed on a patient room board, the content of the art matters.

What Science Says About Art in Healthcare Facilities

People tend to separate art and science. They say art is subjective, while science is objective. They say we use separate halves of our brains to focus on creativity and analytics, despite the mounting evidence supporting the contrary. What people forget is that art is heavily rooted in science, and many of the earliest and most influential artists made significant contributions to scientific fields.

What does this have to do with the art that is placed in healthcare facilities? It all comes down to recognizing there is a significant link between the contents of a piece of art and how patients react to it. More specifically, art can help people feel better, giving them a better overall patient experience.

Art Provides a Better Experience for Patients

One of the most important aspects of patient care is comfort, especially during long stays. A large component of comfort comes from distracting patients. In essence, it’s making them forget they are staying in a hospital. Studies have shown that art can provide these distractions. In a paper published in 2017, researchers found that visual art can influence a patients’ experience and comfort during a hospital stay. Using thermal cameras, researchers tracked the movements of patients in two different common areas, one containing art while the other was left empty. The study showed that patients were more likely to feel safe, socialize, and maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital in rooms where art was present.

Further research has revealed that artwork in hospitals can improve patients' perceptions of the hospital they are being treated at. Artwork, in general, can be a low-cost way to improve patient satisfaction, which can lead to higher HCAHPS scores and larger reimbursements for facilities.

Does the Type of Art Matter?

Does it matter if the art placed in a facility is figurative, abstract, etc.? This is where the research becomes a bit more nuanced. It has long been held that figurative art (art that is clearly derived from real world objects) provides a better experience for patients than abstract art (art that doesn’t necessary resemble real world objects). This belief states that figurative art reminds patients of the outside world, providing them an escape, while abstract art requires too much thought and can induce stress. A study by Nielsen found the reality to be more complicated; the study concluded that, while art improved patient experience, patient well-being was not significantly related to the artwork being figurative or abstract.

Another school of thought derives from the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that people tend to seek out connections with nature. It’s not uncommon to see pictures and paintings of animals and all manner of plants in public places. Nature plays a powerful role in patient health and comfort when staying in a hospital for an extended period, which is why so many pieces of art in many facilities across the country depict images of nature.

The Lesson to be Learned

Art is most effective when designers consider patient experience, demographics, and the needs of patients. The content of a facility’s art should not be an afterthought, nor should it be chosen at random. It should be selected based on the value it can provide to patients. Does it hold their interest? Does it provide them an escape? How does it make them feel? Most importantly, does it make them feel better about their stay within a facility?

Combining Art and Effective Communication

When placed in patient rooms, custom whiteboards can be used as an effective form of communication that provides vital information to patients while comforting them with artistic designs and images. At VividBoard, we work with facilities to design whiteboards that are helpful for patients and care teams, all while providing another colorful piece to hang in patient rooms. Contact VividBoard to learn how to start customizing your whiteboard.

art hospital whiteboard