First published in MedCityNews.

In a hallway on the outskirts of the children’s hospital at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus, there’s a series of black-and-white photographs of cats and dogs hanging in a row. When children arrive for a several-night stay, they can choose a favorite one, and a staff member will print a copy of that image to hang in their room, where it remains as a “pet” throughout the rest of their stay.

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© Jennifer Steinkamp, “Mike Kelley 1″ 2007 (photo credit: Bellamy Printz)

It’s little things like that that contribute to a positive patient experience beyond the exam room, explained Joanne Cohen, executive director and curator of the Arts Program at the Clinic.

The hospital is a tough place to be, she said, which is part of why the Clinic has grown its art program so much since its creation in 2006. Now it comprises more than 4,500 pieces of art on display across all of the outpatient facilities and hospitals that are part of them Clinic’s system, some of them commissioned for specific sites. Every waiting room and every exam room has some kind of poster or painting.

It’s part of a bigger movement to make hospital design more patient-centric. Of course there’s the idea that art can relieve stress and contribute to the healing environment, but Cohen said a collection of art contributes to the experience of patients, visitors and employees in other ways, too.

Some of the most notable pieces have become way-finding devices for staff and visitors to more easily navigate the hospital’s main campus, which is sprawled across several connected buildings on Cleveland’s east said. One of those is the Blue Berg (pictured at left), which is suspended from the ceiling of the clinic’s urology and kidney institute. It’s a scaled-down interpretation of an iceberg that people seem to think resembles a kidney or a heart, she said.

patient-centered design cleveland clinic

© Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, “Blue Berg (r11i01)” 2007

The artwork is also a visual representation of some of the hospital’s core values. Cohen tries to pick pieces that are diverse, unusual and innovative, she said, reflecting the forward-thinking nature of the health system’s leadership. She also tries to pick pieces that relate to the human condition, stimulate the brain or just provide people a moment of distraction from what has brought them to the hospital in the first place. Near the main entrance is a piece called Whispering that’s made up of hundreds of letters hung on strings that, when read vertically, spell out inspirational quotes by authors.

Patients and visitors can also take an audio-guided walking tour through the hospital’s art collection. It’s designed to be a way to encourage patients to get out of their rooms, and for families to avoid sitting in waiting rooms for hours upon hours.

cleveland clinic

© Jaume Plensa, “Whispering” 2007-2008 (Photo credit: Thom Sivo Photography)

The Clinic provides funding for a certain amount of artwork in each building as a line item in the budget, according to Cohen, but much of the funding for the program comes from elsewhere. Most comes from private donations, she said, but once in a while a piece becomes valuable enough that the program can sell it and use those funds to purchase new pieces.

Recently, the Clinic conducted a survey among more than 4,000 patients who had stayed two nights or more in the hospital to find out if, or how, the presence of art affected their comfort level, stress level or mood. The results were overwhelmingly positive, Cohen said, and the Clinic plans to publish those results soon.

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