Using digital screens to inspire better health

Digital signage is an industry that just keeps getting bigger. Reports show that digital signage adds a 31.8 percent upswing in overall sales volume. Digital video reaches more than 70 percent of the public. However, while 42 percent of retail video viewers say they prefer to shop at stores that have video displays, digital fatigue is also on the rise.

Perhaps there’s an answer.

Most digital signage customers use screens to sell advertising space, provide information or assist wayfinding. The really good ones look to create dynamic signage that changes in response to day of week, weather or any other number of variables that allows them to personalize content and playlists. But recently, more are looking to use screens to inspire better health and mental well-being.

Take Accademia, an organization that is using video art and digital signage to improve patient welfare in hospitals. Currently exhibiting at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, their installations are designed to either distract patients or inspire calm through the use of a new video art form they call “Living Photography.”

The company, headed by CEO James Hope-Falkner, is working in partnership with CW+ (the charity for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital) to create department-appropriate hospital content using living photography. Their next installation, “The Zoo” (for the hospital’s new pediatric A&E department), will require the use of 14 screens that will each display a slide show of moving animal portraits, a subject they hope will entertain both children and parents. CW+ works to improve the patient experience and environment by bringing together research, innovation, art and design.

The reason companies like James’ are so focused on art through screens and video content is because of the capabilities afforded by video that just can’t be achieved with painting, photography or sculpture. “Really it’s movement that makes video art such an effective format for hospitals,” explains James.

“Movement can both draw the eye and keep it there. There is also a profound healing effect the observing of movement has on our brains. Like if you’ve ever looked at a fire, or at the ocean for long enough, it puts you into a different state of mind where time moves quicker and you’re not analyzing, over thinking or worrying. It’s more like a sense of daydreaming. A bit like a trance. It is this effect that we are trying to replicate in hospital wards and waiting rooms, almost tricking people into not worrying, by shifting their attention.”

Digital screens … could alter the dynamics of healthcare, retail and other industries now led by digital technology.

Using distraction in clinical environments has been shown to reduce perceptions of pain, lower anxiety and stress and benefit clinicians by creating a calmer environment for them to work — often resulting in quicker treatment times. CW+ has been able to demonstrate this with their initiative RELAX Anaesthetics — a tablet based-app that provides art, music and games to help calm children while they are anesthetized before surgery. The app was shown to reduce anesthetic induction time, increase first attempt success at cannulation, reduce stress in anesthetists and reduce anxiety in children. The initiative won an NHS England Innovation Acorn Challenge Award, and CW+ hopes to see the same effect in the new pediatric A&E.

Apparently, the idea isn’t new. As far back as 1918, the use of images was introduced to entertain and aid recovery of wounded soldiers. A well-known British artist, Samuel Begg, featured in The Illustrated London News, said:

“A novel use of the cinematograph has been introduced into certain American base hospitals in France. For the amusement of wounded men who are unable to sit up or leave their beds, pictures are thrown on the ceiling above their beds by means of portable projectors. Thus they are enabled to enjoy the antics of Charlie Chaplin and other heroes and heroines of the ‘movies,’ like their more fortunate comrades, who can move about and attend the ordinary type of cinema entertainment. How great a boon this ingenious device has proved to bedridden patients may be easily realised by anyone who has ever spent long and tedious hours in bed watching the vagaries of flies crawling on a ceiling.”

The effectiveness behind the art

The meditative effect of art has been documented for years, and the art of cinemagraphs is no different. Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck, who coined the phrase “cinemagraph” back in 2011, explain that the effectiveness comes from how moving photographs alter our perception of time and space. “There’s something about taking a brief moment in time and stretching it out forever that opens up new ways of thinking” they explain. “Sometimes the mind is fully present and aware of surroundings and other times, perhaps in a moment of emotional intensity, the mind will fully focus on one thing and essentially be unaware of anything else. With cinemagraphs we can explore these emotional states by juxtaposing movement with still imagery.”

Used in applications such as fashion and beauty, as well as in-store interactive installations such as the one Burg and Beck have recently developed for a high-resolution 96-inch screen at a storefront in Massachusetts, the potential of the living photography format grows.

Easier and more manageable

Until now, producing this type of art within a publicly funded hospital would have been impossible. Historically, digital signage has meant expensive software installations, money-sucking IT resellers and commercial-grade screens — all things that are out of reach for most public-sector organizations, regardless of the patient/visitor benefit. This means that screens (if there are any at all) in these sectors are left with lackluster content and the same age-old videos playing on loops — far from engaging, exciting or providing benefit to anyone.

Cloud-based digital signage applications give back the power to those within the sectors of healthcare and NFP. Without even needing a smart TV, these types of digital signage solutions allow anyone to get set up at a $20 cost for the software, plus the cost of an Amazon Fire stick or similar for around $35 — a far cry from the thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars previously required.

If companies such as Accademia can use digital screens for the power of good, and the organizations coveting them can afford it, it could alter the dynamics of healthcare, retail and other industries now led by digital technology.

Screens are everywhere, and are already a huge permeation of our everyday lives. They naturally draw attention in the screen-dependent world in which we live — and children especially, who are “born digital,” automatically fix their gaze upon them. If the screens can be used to calm patients rather than just fix boredom or sell advertising space, then they are truly becoming worth the brackets on which they hang.

I, for one, am proud to be a part of that.