Hospital Room Design – High Art

Last month, I took a brief look at hospital room design and its potential to enhance and shorten patient recovery. Today, I’d like to explore another hospital recovery strategy rooted in space and design— art. A recent NBC article reports that more and more hospitals are putting big money behind ambitious art campaigns. The most ambitious of these initiatives – the 5,400 piece collection displayed at Cleveland Clinic hospitals, for instance – essentially amount to museums.

In 2007, more than 40% of healthcare facilities already had some sort of formal arts program, according to the D.C. nonprofit organization Arts & Health Alliance. However, the organization says that only in the past five years have hospitals developed a true interest in large scale investments and linking projects to therapeutic end goals. The organization will conduct a new comprehensive study next year, and is expecting a significant national increase in the number of healthcare facilities with substantial art programs.

The modern rationale for aesthetic art in hospitals, according to the article, can be traced back to a landmark 1984 study conducted by Dr. Roger Ulrich. Through his decade-long study, Ulrich established a link between surgical recovery and the view outside of a hospital window. Patients in the study either saw trees or a brick wall while recovering. Those patients with trees asked for less pain medication and recuperated on average a full day faster than patients facing the brick wall.

Ambitious hospital art campaigns are not without their critics, however. The NBC article quotes architects and hospital administrators who point out that it is difficult to conduct reliable studies with objects of perception. In turn, they also argue that any study can be difficult to translate into effective healthcare policy. Finally, cost must be considered a perennial concern for any modern hospital.

Despite its detractors, I think that hospital art initiatives are a fascinating proposition. Healthcare systems and models are changing— I think it is a great time to consider new, unorthodox methods to support efficient care.




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