Harnessing the arts in pharmacy practice to improve public health

I am a pharmacist and a lecturer in pharmacy practice, but I am also a sculptor. I enjoy the tactile and sensory nature of the sculpting process and I experiment with a range of materials. I am fascinated by the way objects occupy space and affect how people feel.

These ideas are not new; in 1859, in her Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale noted how the “variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery”.

In 2018, I was appointed the first pharmacist committee member of the Arts, Health and Wellbeing Special Interest Group of the Royal Society for Public Health. The group aims to share current research and good practice, and to inform government policy. I will use this opportunity to create meaningful connections between the arts and pharmacy practice to improve public health.

During my research and clinical practice, I discovered how little attention has been given to the physical and social aspects of the community pharmacy environment. What effect could a small and cluttered pharmacy consultation room — which I often notice — have on pharmacy patients and staff?

I started to explore if community pharmacy spaces could be improved — how the spaces would look and feel, and if environmental improvements could support pharmacy teams to improve health outcomes. This led me to develop a participatory art-based research programme at the University of Reading — ‘Architecture of Pharmacies’ (Pharmacy Research UK, Leverhulme Fellowship, awarded 2018) —  involving a multidisciplinary team of researchers (from architecture, pharmacy practice, psychology and design), pharmacy service users, and pharmacy staff among others.

In July 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing released a report from its two-year Creative Health inquiry, which highlighted current evidence to support the arts in health and recommended further research to inform policy and practice.

Art activity can take many forms, including visual and performing arts, crafts, dance, film, literature, music and singing, culinary arts, gardening, and visiting concert halls, galleries, heritage sites, libraries, museums and theatres. The report recommended that health and social care environments, such as community pharmacy, should also be considered as places where engagement with the arts could take place.

Pharmacies could use visual prompts to help patients understand more about their medicines; host arts-based health workshops with artists; and support patients to engage with social prescribing alongside their usual treatment. However, the benefits of the arts on patients and staff remain unknown; these new ideas must be explored.

Find out more about the Arts, Health and Wellbeing Special Interest Group at: https://www.rsph.org.uk/membership/special-interest-groups/join-our-arts-and-health-group.html.


Ranjita Dhital, lecturer in pharmacy practice, University of Reading

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2018, Vol 301, No 7918;301(7918):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205575

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