The art of healing: More hospitals invest in décor

Nature-centric art can help ease pain for surgical patients

Despite tight budgets, hospitals are investing in pieces of art based on a growing body of evidence that it relieves the pain, stress, and anxiety that may come with hospital stays, Laura Landro writes in the Wall Street Journal.

In yesterday's issue: Redesigning hospital rooms to help patients heal

Research suggests patients are most positively affected by artwork with nature, unambiguous figures, and optimistic faces that convey security.

A 1993 study found patients with nature-centric art in their rooms experienced less post-operative anxiety and asked for less pain medication than patients with abstract or no art in their rooms. Similarly, a 2011 study of two EDs in Texas found nature-centric art helped quell restless behavior and noise.

Meanwhile, a review of studies in the Health Environments Research & Design Journal suggests that artwork with fearful or angry faces, lack of realism, abstract imagery, and sharp contours elicits a negative emotional response.

"These are not just accoutrements or aesthetics anymore," says Lisa Harris, chief executive of Indiana University School of Medicine's Eskenazi Health. Using a $1.5 million budget from donors, the health system commissioned 19 artists to create original pieces that support a "sense of optimism, vitality, and energy" for its Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital.

"This is right down the fairway of what we need to be doing to promote health," Harris says.

Nearly half of U.S. hospitals have some sort of arts program—be it art therapy classes or musical performances, according to a 2009 report from the Arts & Health Alliance. Many hospitals, like Eskenazi, are able to fund such programs through philanthropy, Landro writes. Others build it into their budgets for new facility construction.

How hospitals decorate their facilities: It's an art, not a science

Patients and families, such as the Kreinbrinks, say the investment is well worth it. Heather Kreinbrink's daughter Allison suffered a stroke in 2010 and was hospitalized for a week at the Cleveland Clinic. She told Landro that the art installation outside of the children's wing provided her and her husband with a sense of calm.

"It ended up being something we would go to every day for peace and to come to terms with what was happening," Heather says, adding that the family continues to return to the installation.

"It made me think as I saw other kids being pushed in wheelchairs by their parents, how awesome it is to be able to have something like that to take your mind of everything you are going through," says Allison, who poses for a picture in front of the installation every time she has a checkup at the Clinic.

Earlier this year, the Cleveland Clinic published a patient survey about its art collection. The survey found that patients respond positively to the diversity of its collection, which includes everything from nonrepresentational imagery to images of nature. Some patients even reported feeling motivated to get out of bed to look more closely at the art.

Hospitals take design cues from malls, airports

Iva Fattorini, chair of the Clinic's Arts & Medicine Institute, says the aim of the collection "is to take your mind away from the disease and replace the time you are losing inside [the] hospital with some beauty" (Landro, Wall Street Journal, 8/18).

Medical Group Strategy

Redesigning the Primary Care Clinic

Next in the Daily Briefing

Hospital-led insurance plans lower their exchange prices

Read now