Why do we need art in hospitals?

Why do we need art in hospitals?
June 18, 2015
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Why do we need art in hospitals?

Dan Savage will be exhibiting at the European Healthcare Design Congress on 22nd and 23rd June 2015.


Why are so many hospitals still blank, soulless, austere, clinical places, where often the only adornments are confusing signs and posters about diseases? When I was 20, I was treated in hospital for testicular cancer. Anyone who has been in hospital will no doubt have experienced some degree of anxiety. I remember my own feelings ranged from fear and uncertainty to boredom and gloominess, alongside the obvious physical manifestations of my condition. I needed a distraction.

We need positive distractions

Hospitals, by their very nature can be traumatic places for some people, associated with illness and deep emotional upset. Over the last 3 decades, much research has been undertaken to change the design of hospital environments to make them more inviting, welcoming and comfortable. The walls of my own hospital room were plain cream, broken up by the clutter of medical paraphernalia. My hospital window looked out on to a brick wall, where the only bit of nature that I could glimpse were the weeds growing out of the guttering. The space was devoid of anything that could take my mind off illness; anything that could be considered a positive distraction. The atmosphere encouraged introspection.

Nature-based artworks reduce anxiety

Evidence-based design research, led by healthcare design guru Roger Ulrich, has shown that positive distractions help people to cope with stress, improving health outcomes. Researchers Sarajane Eisen, Uphali Nanda, and Richard Coss, amongst others have built on Ulrich’s findings, showing that exposure to nature elicits positive feelings and contributes to shorter hospital stays, and studies have proven that serene artworks based on nature reduce anxiety and agitation, and can actually lower systolic blood pressure.

What is the best art for healing?

The importance of using art in health care environments is clearly backed up by many research studies and could ultimately be a powerful tool to reduce hospital bed time and even save health care institutions money. Therefore the challenge is to create artwork that has the desired effect of improving recovery time for patients. We know that representational nature artwork is consistently selected as the preferred option by service users. However, even within these parameters the efficacy of the artwork can vary significantly.

Creating art specifically for health care environments is an exciting area for development, combining the creative and imaginative skills of the artist with the academic research studies to create accessible art that can play a big role in the treatment pathway.

If you were a patient or carer, what type of artwork might help you to become calm and positive?

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