One physician at the health center noted a shift in patients' behavior after they participated in the project, including an increased willingness to open up during the visit, the authors added.
Two young United States doctors, who met in medical school, felt the decor of a waiting room at a small community healthcare center in Harlem, New York City did not reflect the identities and experiences of the patients it serves - mainly low-income African-American and Hispanic families dependent on Medicaid for healthcare costs; so they decided to change it to make healthcare more human.
The physicians settled on a simple plan to transform the room at the Charles B. Rangel Community Health Center. Over the course of several weeks, they provided 50 young patients in the waiting room, ages five to 21, with art supplies and invited them to write or draw in response to the prompt, "How do you see yourself?"
"We thought it would be really meaningful to get patients to use the untapped time they spend in a waiting room constructively and in a way that would leave a physical impression, shaping the space that represents a medical home for their community," Dr. Anoushka Sinha of Columbia University told Reuters Health by phone.
Writing in the journal Pediatrics, Sinha and Dr. Natalie Diacovo, both now residents in pediatrics training programs, say the experiment began as a "narrative medicine" project for an assignment during medical school at Columbia.
"Narrative medicine is about reading a patient the way you would read a poem," Sinha explained.
Sinha and Diacovo said patients became engrossed in the activity and collaborated with each other, sometimes returning after their appointment to finish their artwork.
Children younger than five volunteered themselves as "helpers," fetching crayons and picking colors for the older patients.
"We wanted to do something that could significantly improve the patient experience and sort of bring medicine back to a more humanistic place. I think it can be a little cold and scientific sometimes," Diacovo, now at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a phone interview.
Vitez believes medical schools are increasingly recognizing that burnout and isolation among health care providers is impacting patients and, as a result, they are prioritizing ways to help clinicians and staff connect better with the people they care for.
"I think more medical schools and more doctors are searching for ways to give patients and clinicians more voice," he said.
Sinha and Diacovo hope their project will be widely adopted.
"It was really cheap and really not time intensive," Sinha said. "I can't imagine that costs would be an issue for any clinic being able to do this," she added.