What is the impact of art in healthcare?

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The Impact

  • 78% of healthcare facilities that implement arts programming cited measurable benefits to patients – which included increased perception of quality of care, shorter hospital stays, decreased perception of pain and discomfort which also led to a reduction in demand for pain medication[1].
  • Research shows that environments that are more aesthetically pleasing relieve patient stress and increase satisfaction with the quality of care[2]
  • In another study, 84% of patients and visitors thought that the newly implemented art program made them feel better. They stated that the art made the hospital deinstitutionalized, more comforting, and more cheerful and uplifting[3]
  • Acoustic treatment through the application of acoustic art can significantly mitigate disruption and distractions for both patients and staff[4].
  • For staff, this leads to increases in focus, attention, and empathy, which results in decreases in overall stress and work-related errors, better quality patient care, and reduced feelings of burnout
  • For patients, this leads to increased privacy and confidentiality, as well as improving the overall quality and quantity of rest and healing, and the decrease of blood pressure, heart and respiration rate, shorter hospital stays, and fewer required pain medications by surgery patients post recovery

The Common Challenge

Healthcare providers have a single mandate: heal the bodies, minds, and spirits of their patients. To that end, healthcare professionals work hard to master their particular roles – be it surgeons, physicians, nurses, specialists, or administrative staff. Like many of us in the workplace, they grow accustomed to their surroundings and their environment, letting it fade into the background while they focus on the tools and the people in front of them.

A growing body of research continues to show, however, that those surroundings and those environments are able to function as significant allies and partners in their efforts to restore wellness and well-being to their patients. To that end, they shouldn’t be allowed to fade into the background, and should instead be harnessed to significantly impact the patient experience. Research also shows that it’s not just patients who benefit, but those same healthcare professionals.

The solution for connecting healthcare space with increased patient and staff wellness? Evidence-based design.

What Is Evidence-Based Design?

EBD is a design methodology built on experiential design and research-driven best practices, that acknowledges that human beings instinctively look to their environments for cues as to how they should feel, what they should think, and how they should act. Because of this, the growing body of work in EBD continues to show that shapes, textures, colors, and imagery within the spaces and environments that human beings inhabit are able to directly influence how a person thinks and feels.

Designers then apply Evidence Based Design best practices with the goal of triggering specific emotional and cognitive responses within the people who utilize a particular space.

What kinds of responses?

  • Each person has an average of 60,000 thoughts per day, with 95% of them being the same thoughts repeated every day[5].
  • The human brain is, thanks to evolutionary survival needs, wired so that negative experiences are ‘stickier’. We perceive negative things as impacting us more strongly, and we instinctively hold on to negative memories and thoughts for longer and more prominently[6].
  • In a healthcare setting, these experiences can range from feelings of pain, illness, and discomfort, to feelings of disorientation and anxiety at being in an unfamiliar place. They can also include intense feelings of depression, fear, apprehension, and stress.
  • Viewing art has been shown to trigger a surge of dopamine into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain. This combination is known to be involved in feelings of desire, affection, and pleasure[7].
  • Viewing art has also been shown to be able to disrupt negative thought cycles by distracting the viewer and allowing them to refocus their perception on an alternative[8].

Evidence-based design is the informed and educated approach to design to, through the use of art, achieve positive outcomes in collaboration with the work of the healthcare organization.


The body of literature and research is rapidly growing as more evidence continues to present itself as to how powerful a combination evidence-based design, art, and healthcare settings, can be. To that end, there are a wealth of resources available for those who wish to explore the topic further. The below list is offered as starting points and is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive.

[2]“The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital of the 21st Century: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity”, Roger Ulrich, 2004 (https://www.healthdesign.org/system/files/Ulrich_Role%20of%20Physical_2004.pdf)

[3] “A Guide to Evidence-based Art”, K. Hathorn and U. Nanda, 2008 (https://www.healthdesign.org/system/files/Hathorn_Nanda_Mar08.pdf)

[4]“Sound Control for Improved Outcomes in Healthcare Settings”, Center for Health Design, 2007 (https://www.healthdesign.org/sites/default/files/Sound%20Control.pdf)

[5] http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/programs/NewSFN/pages/default.aspx?Lesson=3&Topic=2&UserId=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000705




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