Waiting cancer patients soothed by digital art

HughTurvey_3_VL Hugh Turvey Hon FRPS FRSA, permanent artist in residence at the BIR and a pioneering creative practitioner for better healthcare environments explains how an absorbing programme of digital screen-based art is providing a welcome diversion for patients and their carers as they wait for treatment at Cheltenham Oncology Centre.

“Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, colour and light, we do know this: that they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.” Florence Nightingale, 1860.

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Florence Nightingale was ahead of her time in realising that our environment has a physical affect on us all. Not least those who have to wait in hospital waiting areas. For patients and their carers in oncology departments up and down the country, it’s all about the waiting: waiting for consultations, waiting between treatments, waiting for their results. The nature of cancer treatment means they often have to return, time after time, over days, weeks, even months, to wait — anxious, conspicuous, unwell, often in barren, clinical, institutionalised spaces — for hours on end.

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In Cheltenham Oncology Centre, they are modelling a more positive form of waiting through an arts programme that provides service users with an absorbing rotation of art and photography digitally displayed on giant screens on the walls as well as a range of art activities for waiting patients and staff.

The latest development in the project has seen six, large, state-of-the-art digital screens installed in each of the waiting areas across the department. Funded by the Centre’s charity FOCUS (Fund for Oncology Centre Users and Supporters), the pilot is being run in partnership with specialist digital media company OOHSCREEN.

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As a photographic artist himself, Hugh has been convinced of the benefits of digital screen technology for displaying art for some time and together with co-director Lisa Moore has developed an innovative system that enables the creation of a rolling programme of remotely curated screen-based art exhibitions. The pilot project in Cheltenham Oncology Centre has already broken the cycle of dreary daytime TV with initial exhibitions that include the Royal Photographic Society’s extraordinary International Images for Science exhibition and digital images of some of the best art being made locally through arts association Cheltenham Open Studios.

Speaking about the project, Niki Whitfield, Arts Co-ordinator for Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust, said, “We understand that people would rather be anywhere else than here, so through the creation of an art-enhanced environment and a rolling programme of drop-in creative workshops we are working towards making the experience more bearable”.

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Another advantage of the technology is that it also enables information and notices — from clinic times to third-party groups providing support for cancer patients and their families — to be put on the screen. This means service users can be targeted with information relevant to them. Lisa Moore, who is a specialist in digital messaging in healthcare environments, explains, “What screen-based exhibitions offer are an additional level of engagement, enabling us to also educate and inform through tailored messaging for each setting. And because the technology is updatable, the content remains current”. She continues, “NHS service users are often bombarded with information — in the form of signs, posters, leaflets, notices — all competing for their attention. It can be so overwhelming, they often don’t engage with any of it. This offers a platform that enables us to ensure that the most important messages get seen, while creating a more relaxing environment by the removal of much of the “visual noise” from the walls”.

The hope is, going forward, that the screen project will become self-financing. With over 100,000 people per year passing through the doors of the Cheltenham Oncology Centre alone, it makes the proposition of sponsorship extremely attractive for third-party service providers. As Niki Whitfield says, “By transferring key information from pop-ups, posters and leaflets onto the screens, we not only ensure more people get access to the resources and support they need, but our partners save on the production costs of these kinds of materials”.

The benefits of art in healthcare settings for patient wellbeing are well documented. In 2011, the British Medical Association published a report on “The psychological and social needs of patients” which found that:

Creating a therapeutic healthcare environment extends beyond the elimination of boredom. Arts and humanities programmes have been shown to have a positive effect on inpatients. The measured improvements include:

  • inducing positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes
  • reducing drug consumption
  • shortening length of hospital stay
  • promoting better doctor–patient relationships
  • improving mental healthcare

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Initial feedback on this programme from staff and patients is that it has helped create a calming more relaxed atmosphere. As Dr Samir Guglani, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, puts it, “For staff and patients, briefly to be looking at the same creative works together — rather than just scans or results — in the same shared space; this is powerful, engaging and ultimately culture changing”.

A more rigorous evaluation is planned to assess the impact of the screens, with a view to expanding the scope of the screens across this and other trusts across the UK.

OOHSCREEN is co-founded by Hugh Turvey Hon FRPS FRSA, permanent artist in residence at the BIR and Lisa Moore. http://www.oohscreen.com +44 20 9411 5870

Further reading

Arts and health research literature up to 2010: http://www.publicartonline.org.uk/resources/research/artsandhealthmarch2010.php

A prospectus for arts and health (20 April 2007), Department of Health and Arts Council England: http://www.paintingsinhospitals.org.uk/evidence/research

About Hugh Turvey

Hugh Turvey is an artist with an international reputation. His Xogram work is held in public and private collections throughout the world. Bridging the gap between art and science, graphic design and pure photography, it has been utilised in myriad applications, including, commercially, for marketing and advertising, in TV and film and by architects and interior designers.

Along with developing a body of work for the Science Photo Library, Hugh Turvey has collaborated on an ebook and iPad app called ‘X is for X-ray’. His Xogram work has also been widely featured in newspaper articles and magazines around the world.

Among his commercial projects, he has made six award-winning TV adverts, using ground breaking Motion X-Ray. He has worked with Waitrose UK on celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s ranges has had images commissioned by L’Oreal, Paris.

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