WHPRMS December Blog: Art as a Healthcare Public Relations Tool

As a hospital marketing director, I knew that a clean and aesthetically pleasing facility instilled confidence among our patients, visitors and the community as a whole. During a $34 million facilities improvement project, much attention was given to creating attractive and comfortable public spaces, surgical waiting areas, radiology treatment suites and patient rooms. Undoubtedly, the upgrades enhanced the hospital’s public reputation and contributed to improved patient outcomes.

Art that Heals and Satisfies

Today, healthcare interior design is increasingly guided by evidence-based concepts that create a healing environment where art, patterns of movement, exposure to natural light, colors, textures, electronic media, and more, all contribute to a sense of place that fosters confidence, comfort and healing. In fact, the role of art in healing environments has been shown to positively impact:

  • Clinical outcomes such as length of hospital stay, intake of pain medication, depression associated with chemotherapy, dialysis, and other invasive treatments; mental healthcare treatment times; operative recovery times; and biological markers like blood pressure and heart rate;
  • Patient-, family-, and employee-based outcomes such as patients’ rated levels of perceived pain, patient and employee satisfaction with healthcare services, working conditions including employee turnover and missed days; and
  • Brand recognition. 1

Amanda Kron, Art Coordinator at UW Health, curates art installations across the system’s hospitals and clinics. She is well aware of the healing effect upon viewers and believes that the role of art in the healthcare setting is to provide respite for patients, visitors, and staff.

“Art can help to transform a stressful setting into a welcoming and warm space,” says Kron. “Mental and emotional healing are just as important as physical healing. Art can also be hopeful, especially when made by current or former patients.”

Rotating exhibits and the permanent collection are available to everyone, “Whether to pass the time between appointments, while waiting for a family member in surgery, or when taking a break from a difficult case.”

Art’s Color, Shape and Form Enhance Healing

Kron describes the concept of biophilic design. Here, tangible connections to nature are made between interior and exterior spaces. These connections satisfy the human need for nature by including artwork that incorporates natural colors and forms that viewers find soothing and grounding. This is especially important in areas where patients are prone to high stress such as the Carbone Cancer Center and the American Family Children’s Hospital Diagnostic Imaging Pavilion.

Art as a Wayfinding Tool

Patients and visitors who find a hospital’s interior layout confusing have one more reason to complain. Kron knows that art can be a very important wayfinding tool, especially in large buildings. She considers how art can be viewed from various focal points or located in places of prominence to assist with wayfinding. For example, art near key locations such as restrooms can be easily described as landmarks when directing patients.

“Our guest services team uses art as landmarks when giving directions to visitors. Clear landmarks such as the cow statue in the University Hospital surgical waiting lounge helps to reassure patients and visitors that they are in the right place.”

Art that Promotes the Community

Art can also promote positive public relations when it is reflective of the local community’s demographics, culture and geographical features. According to Kron, “Art is a direct link between the healthcare institution and the community. Art can educate viewers about the history and culture of the area and should reflect the community we serve. At UW Health, art depicting local places such as state parks or the Madison skyline anchor viewers with familiar scenery.”

“I keep in mind that my audience comes from a wide variety of backgrounds. Though I can’t completely predict how a piece will be received, I try to be considerate, says Kron. “It is important that the art is accessible to as many people as possible.”

Support for the local arts community also demonstrates commitment to the area economy. “I purchase art from local artists whenever I can. Artists should be paid fairly for their work. I want to support both professional and emerging artists from all backgrounds as this reflects the diverse cultures of the people of our region,” she adds.

The Public Relations Impact of Art Can’t be Understated

Clearly, there is considerable value to art as a positive contributor to employee and customer satisfaction, wayfinding, and, most importantly, healthcare outcomes. Providing aesthetically pleasing public spaces, surgical waiting areas, chemotherapy treatment suites and patient rooms offers refuge and serenity during the stressful experience of a hospitalization or visit to an ill loved-one.

Healthcare public relations professionals should help arts curators to better understand the local community and organizational culture, wayfinding needs, satisfaction with facilities and even patient outcomes by unit. This collaborative approach to interior design will help enhance the overall public relations outcomes.

James Shulkin has been a member of WHPRMS since 1999. He is the principal at Windflower Consulting.

1 Art in Healthcare, Michael Lehman, Healthcare Design. December 1, 2011

Image at top of page – Seasons of Wisconsin, by Barbara Westfall Art Glass Design. Project: Tomah Health – Tomah Memorial Hospital lobby reception area.


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