“Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the object presented to patients are an actual means of recovery.”

Florence Nightingale

One of the most memorable design projects that I worked on in college was a restaurant based on the Aesclepian hospitals of ancient Greece. Well before I had decided to focus my career on healthcare, I was fascinated by the idea that the ancient Greeks saw a curative component to being exposed to all forms of the arts. They believed that exposure over the course of many days to extreme emotion, both laughter to tears, while surrounded by nature and beauty acted as a cathartic to the body. That idea resonated and has stayed with me over all those years.

In ancient Greece, most healing practices took place in people’s homes, though many chose to visit healing temples as well. Interesting to correlate this to the current conversations on how technology will enable many components of future patient care to occur in the home. The Greeks saw healing as a spiritual and physical process and thought of sickness as both physical and psychic. To heal the psyche, they specifically introduced listening to music as a treatment modality. It was the Greek philosopher and physician Alcmaeon who popularized the theory that the brain perceives sensation and is responsible for thought and memory-reminiscent of the mind-body connection we still talk about today.

A theme of this month’s issue of Healthcare Design magazine is planning and purchasing artwork. This is an important topic, because incorporating the arts into healthcare environments has been shown to increase patient, staff, and family satisfaction; decrease the perception of pain; have positive effects on stress and depression; and provide an opportunity for community involvement through philanthropy and community created art projects.

To dive more deeply into the positive impact art can have on healing, you may want to check out a new book that focuses on the role the arts play in healthcare facilities. Transforming the Healthcare Experience through the Arts features background information on the arts in healthcare as well as almost 300 pages of color examples of exemplary projects. Written and compiled by Blair Sadler, former president and CEO of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and Annette Ridenour, president of Aesthetics, Inc., a San Diego-based healthcare design firm, this book contains case studies, research-based evidence, and pragmatic advice.

Outside of the visual arts, the performing arts have also played and continue to play a role in healthcare. Susan Mazer, president of Healing HealthCare Systems, wrote in a September 2003 article published in Long-Term Living magazine about the many benefits of music as a way to bring people together and reduce the sense of isolation often found in long-term care environments. She cites reports that connect appropriate live performance in gerontological settings as having physiologic outcomes that included alleviating depression, reducing agitation, increasing cognition, and stimulating memory. Furthermore, it was found that the musical performance had similar impact on family and staff that were present as well.

For those wanting to learn more about the arts and healthcare, spend some time on the Web site of The Society for Arts in Healthcare (http://www.thesah.org). Founded in 1991, The Society for the Arts in Healthcare is dedicated to advancing arts as integral to healthcare by advocating for the integration of the arts into the environment and delivery of care within healthcare facilities, as well as encouraging and supporting research and investigation into the beneficial effects of the arts in healthcare.

Finally, if the arts are restorative when dealing with illness, just think of the benefits of incorporating the arts into your daily life. This weekend, why not see a film or a musical performance or drop by one of your many local museums? I’m sure they will be happy to see you. HD

The Center for Health Design is located in Concord, California.

For more information, visit http://www.healthdesign.org.

Healthcare Design 2010 April;10(4):16