Art and medical offices: dos and don’ts

Art and medical offices: dos and don’ts

There has been a fair amount of research done on the effect of art on patients as a visual experience and as a hands-on experience in the form of art therapy.

As an art consultant, I do a lot of medical clinics — from pediatrics, to oncology, to mental health, to hospitals and basic family practices. There is a science-based reason for why you see so much nature and florals on the walls of doctor’s offices. Authors Roger Ulrich and Laura Gilpin explored this topic thoroughly in their study and subsequent publication “Healing Arts: Nutrition for the Soul.” Combining scientific research and anecdotal field work, they developed art selection guidelines widely used for the healthcare industries. You can find out more about these guidelines at the Center for Health Design’s website at but the essence is that depictions of nature are calming and provoke feelings of peace and well-being in us.

The Cleveland Clinic’s own studies on patient experience with art in hospitals and clinics went further to suggest that the art should not call attention to the patient’s suffering, but rather help them to feel comfortable and soothed. In my own work, there are some obvious choices to be made for certain clinics, and some not-so-obvious things to consider and avoid. The simplest approach is often the best, and for pediatric facilities, art full of color and playfulness make the most sense. The more quirky and active, the better for helping to distract kids from whatever has brought them to the doctor, or dentist, in the first place. People who must return again and again to a clinic because of chronic suffering benefit from relaxing and soothing images that create a positive “escape” or dreamland (here comes the nature part) but consideration should be made to rotating artwork because of the repetitive nature of these visits.

I would point out Providence Cancer Center as a top example of floral and landscape choice. Photographs of aspirational imagery, e.g. emotionally positive examples of humans being active perhaps despite physical imitations are a good choice for physical therapy centers. Before and after pictures of actual patients can be artfully displayed under certain circumstances like medical spas and orthodontists.

One area that is often overlooked during planning is the exam rooms. A patient may feel relaxed in your beautifully outfitted waiting room, but if your exam room is full of medical diagrams and pictures of ailments provided by the pharmaceutical company, I would hazard a guess that heart rates are going to rise again while they wait for the doc. Take into consideration what brought your patient to the clinic to begin with, and be sensitive to their complete journey from waiting room to exam room to check-out. Some “no-nos” I have seen include too much red in a cardiovascular clinic, pictures of babies and children in a reproductive medicine office, and posters of childhood diseases in a pediatrician’s exam rooms. It’s great to think outside the box — after all, who wants to see another X-ray image of a floral? Your art consultant has the experience and research to help you identify the best fit for your clinic and your patient.

Chris Pero