As patients in the medical clinic or hospital setting, we may not have the expertise to evaluate our clinical experience, but the perception we will have of our visit is influenced by factors we can assess – factors such as friendliness of the staff, comfort of the furniture, room temperature, apparent cleanliness, to mention a few, and the big one, wait times. Professionals, who study patient satisfaction, know just how important elements like these are to the overall patient experience, and whether it is positive or negative.
One factor, however, although rarely mentioned by patients as a determinant of the quality of their experience, can have a dramatic effect on patient perception. That factor is the visual environment…namely, visual art. In fact, in a study of the use of visual art in two large metropolitan hospital emergency rooms in Houston, TX, visual art, especially with nature content depicting nonthreatening nature scenes, significantly reduced stress, perception of pain, and anxiety for patients in the waiting room. Amazingly, visual art also made patients’ perceived wait times, better than their actual wait times…in other words, when the visual environment was more pleasant due to the presence of art, patients believed their wait times were shorter. Observational data from the study also revealed a significant reduction in restless behavior, an increase in socialization, a decrease in the number of people staring at other people and a significant reduction in noise levels.
While the study of the effect of visual art in the patient waiting area cited above was conducted fairly recently, some ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, seem to have had a better understanding of the power of color and it’s impact on us, body and mind. These ancients practiced chromotherapy, or the use of color to heal, and each color had a certain affect on conditions of the body and mind.
RED was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
YELLOW was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
ORANGE was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
BLUE was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
INDIGO shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.
When physicians Michael Manning and Cliff Adams of Mississippi Vein Institute in Madison, wanted to select art for the lobby and patient waiting area at their office, they turned to Joel Brown of Brown’s Fine Art and Framing to find the right pieces to create a pleasing visual experience for their patients.
“For the kind of procedures that we perform at the Vein Institute, we want our patients to be as comfortable as possible and we want them to feel right at home,” notes Dr. Manning. “That includes how they are greeted and treated when they walk in the door, to the artwork in the waiting area. Brown’s made it easy for us to select work, from bringing it out, to framing, delivering and hanging it perfectly.”
According to Joel Brown, the doctors knew they wanted artwork with soothing colors and calm, peaceful subject matter, such as landscapes. “Doctors Manning and Adams, had a good idea of what they were looking for,” explains Brown. “They knew they wanted the art to set a pleasing tone for the space and make patients feel at ease and relaxed. We recommended several Greg Gustafson pieces, because of their sweeping skies, peaceful waters, and the warm soothing light that emanates from the clouds. Before they made their final decision, we took the art to the spaces where it would be installed and tried it out to be sure it provided the effect they were looking for.”
“Before we make recommendations of art for any space, we always ask about the kind of setting, whether it is for an office, home, or another venue,” Brown continues. “We also want to know the atmosphere the client is wanting to create – calm and soothing, bright and energetic, traditional or cutting-edge. It’s important to get to know our clients and their space so we can find the art that will enhance the environment in which it is placed.”
Well-Being asked Brown about his experience finding artwork for other healthcare settings.
“For years I have been reading everything I can find on the impact of color and design on mood and emotions,” Brown adds. “Art and color are important not just for adults, but for children, and even pets. It can actually help with the healing process, when used effectively. We once helped to find art for a psych unit at a local hospital. The physician wanted the pieces to elicit specific reactions in the patients he was treating. Art and color are very powerful elements. They can not only change our environment, but they have the potential to change our reactions to that environment and how we respond to and relate to others.”
More research is needed to explore the influence of color and the visual arts on human behavior.
As researchers continue to explore the influence of color and the visual arts on human behavior, we may finally learn how to more effectively use visual stimuli to improve mood, comfort, response to treatment and wellbeing in the healthcare environment and the larger world around us.