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November 16, 2016/Primary Care/Research

How Much Does a Hospital Art Collection Improve Patient Experience?

Patients report better mood, less stress, more comfort


Images of land, sea and sky have been standard hospital wall décor ever since research studies showed nature’s positive effect on health outcomes. But that decades-old design preference may be due for a makeover.


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Researchers at Cleveland Clinic have found that diversity of art also benefits patients.

An article published in Health Environments Research & Design Journal quantified just how much Cleveland Clinic’s contemporary art collection — an eclectic mix of 6,200-plus pieces displayed throughout the health system’s public spaces and patient areas — improved patient mood, stress and comfort.

“This wasn’t a clinical study, but rather a survey of art’s general impact on patient experience,” says Jennifer Finkel, PhD, one of two full-time Cleveland Clinic Art Program curators. “And patient experience is definitely a contributing factor in patients’ well-being and health outcomes.”

Beyond nature

Over the last 10 years, Cleveland Clinic has amassed an array of contemporary artworks by living artists. Some works were purchased, including dozens commissioned for specific sites, and others were donated, including some from grateful former patients.

The collection’s paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and other media present a variety of subjects in representational (including nature images), nonrepresentational and abstract imagery. Themes include the human condition, global diversity, innovation, collaboration and pop culture.

“Cleveland Clinic builds contemporary buildings, with 21st century architecture, for 21st century medicine,” says Dr. Finkel. “Our artwork is integrated into our buildings. It reflects our institution, communicating that we’re forward-thinking and on the forefront of medicine.”

Fine art pieces are displayed in public spaces and waiting areas. Museum-quality posters are displayed in exam and patient rooms and corridors.

What patients see

In 2012, Cleveland Clinic emailed former patients, inviting them to respond to a survey about the health system’s art program. Out of the more than 1,000 respondents that had visited Cleveland Clinic within the previous 12 months, 826 (76 percent) remembered noticing the art collection.

“We think that high percentage speaks to the eclectic nature of the collection and to the curatorial practice,” says Dr. Finkel.

Of those who noticed the art and were in the hospital for two or more days:

  • 77 percent described Cleveland Clinic’s environment as “inviting/welcoming.” (Only 60 percent of respondents who were in the hospital one day and didn’t notice the art said the same.)
  • 73 percent described the environment as “calming” (compared to 43 percent of one-day visitors who didn’t notice the art).


Direct effect on patients’ well-being

Just as important as patients’ impression of the hospital environment was the art collection’s effect on their well-being.

Of the 826 respondents who noticed the art, an average of:

  • 73 percent said it somewhat or significantly improved their mood. Results were even higher among the subset of respondents treated for breast cancer (78 percent), generalized anxiety (81 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (84 percent). Results also were higher the longer the hospital stay. For example, 91 percent of two- and three-day visitors reported that the art improved their mood.
  • 61 percent said it somewhat or significantly reduced their stress. Results were even higher among the subset of respondents treated for cancer (65 percent), generalized anxiety (69 percent) and PTSD (81 percent) — as well as among the subset of two- and three-day visitors (72 percent).
  • 39 percent said it somewhat or significantly improved their comfort or pain level. Results were even higher among the subset of respondents treated for cancer (43 percent), osteoarthritis (47 percent), generalized anxiety (49 percent) and PTSD (54 percent).

The value of diversity and balance

While more research will solidify the implications of contemporary art on patients’ mood, stress and comfort, it’s clear that Cleveland Clinic’s collection has a significant effect on patient experience, says Dr. Finkel.

“Artwork in a hospital does not need to be limited to landscape imagery or representational depictions of nature,” she says. “There can be a balance of subjects. Patients can respond positively to a diverse collection.”

It’s not the amount of art that matters, she notes, it’s the diversity and quality. And that is best developed by an experienced curator, who collaborates with architects, administrators, patients and visitors to fully understand how people experience the hospital environment.

“When we curate, we like to think of the patient or visitor journey — what one experiences from point of entry to the waiting room to the exam or patient room and finally to discharge,” says Dr. Finkel. “We strive for a balance of imagery — from the representational to abstraction and perhaps back to the representational — along that journey.”

Photo Credit: Catherine Opie, Somewhere in the Middle, 2010-2011, 22 Inkjet Prints, site-specific commission, Hillcrest Hospital.


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