Many hospitals, particularly private and corporate ones, hang attractive pictures and art pieces in their entrance halls and patient waiting rooms. Most people, in fact even some of the owners themselves, think this is just to drum-beat their “class.” In contrast, most if not all, public or government hospitals do nothing of this kind and leave their walls blank or fill them with notices. Their rooms and corridors are hideous. This is true of even prestigious institutes of medical sciences across the country. Given this, it may come as a surprise (even to some of the owners of these hospitals) that displaying art in hospitals, patient waiting rooms and wards is good for patients, doctors, nurses and other caregivers.
A highly cited research report published three years ago by a group of Danish researches (Nielson et al, “How do patients actually experience and use art in hospitals? The significance of interaction: a user-oriented experimental case study”; International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being 2017:12(1) 1267343 shows how patients experience an overall feeling of approachability and care. .
They studied patients confined for a period of several weeks in a common care hall. During the first week, the walls of the hall were bare and blank. Each patient was immersed in his own medical condition, not talking to the others in the hall. On the eighth day, a series of artwork- paintings, pictures and photographs were displayed on the walls of the common care hall. Most of the patients began looking at and studied them, diverted their attention from earlier self-absorption, began analysing and interpreting these exhibits in his own way, started talking to others in the hall and made friends, moving on to non-clinical topics, exchanged critiques and socialised more. They listened to the nurses, doctors and other caregivers with greater attention, and their cure improved!
The researchers conclude that art creates an environment and atmosphere where the patient can feel safe, socialise, maintain connection with the world outside the confines of the hospital and supports their identity. The presence of visual art in hospital contributes to health outcomes. One would expect that this would be particularly true of patients confined to intensive care units where medical instruments are cluttered around.
Now, this study has been done in a European society. Will this work in a place like India and in public and government hospitals? There is no reason why it cannot, but the planning and strategy will have to suit local conditions. People are people: they like to interact, need attention, not just for medical attention, but as persons, sociologically as well.
Towards this, designers, sociologists, and sensitive artists need to get together with the doctors in the hospitals, choose the kind of art display, and the space available. The conditions and the overburdening patient space, the over- worked doctors and caregivers, the local culture and other factors, will have to be budgeted in, but it can be done. And it should be done since, as mentioned above, visual art in a hospital contributes to health outcomes as an extended from of health care.
Now, does art in hospitals help the doctors and nurses there? What can they learn from looking at art? Does this help them become better professionals? Indeed so, the book by Ann Sloan Devlin: “Transforming the Doctor’s office: Principles from Evidence- Based Design” offers some clues, and the article by Dr Robert Glatter: “Can studying art help medical students become better doctors?” makes convincing arguments for introducing art as a course for medical students, apart from the usual ones and beyond Gray’s Anatomy. Indeed, this has been introduced in some medical schools and young students have appreciated it and find that it broadens their diagnostic still. One of them remarked: “I have been looking so far at the center of the picture as the main part, but I came to realize that there is a wealth of data on the sides too!”
Given this, our medical colleges can try this and bring a practising artist periodically to come, explain and discuss his/her art work , and invite responses from the students. Such periodic get-togethers, even if not part of the curriculum, will help broaden the minds and help in the skill of how to interpret and get more out of the images from scans obtained from machines. One private medical institute in Hyderabad has put this in practice for its clinical and research fellows and doctors. It has placed paintings and other art pieces in its patient waiting rooms, walls on each floor, children’s care centre, low-vision aid clinics, thus practising and anticipating what the Danish group above has suggested in 2017. It has also set apart a major area of an entire floor dedicated as an art gallery, and invites artists, musicians, writers, NGOs, and similar scholars for lectures and interaction with its doctors and scientists, but also with the interested citizens attending the events.