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Book Review: ‘Artists Remaking Medicine’

Health care professionals and artists learn from each other in a new anthology

Back Article Oct 26, 2023 By Michael Scott

The health care industry is an essential lifeline for millions of Americans. A key part of our economy, it represents roughly 18 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. 

This landscape, however, is currently grappling with a complex trifecta of issues related to quality of care, escalating costs and barriers to patient access. These and other challenges are a formidable triad that demand thoughtful and creative solutions fueled by innovation, data-driven insights and collaborative partnerships.  

Navigating these and other challenges in the spirit of a healthier, more equitable future is no small task. It’s here where there’s growing momentum around radically creative solutions to help fix what’s broken about today’s health care system. 

Artists Remaking Medicine” is a promising new book offering fresh perspectives for addressing a number of the systemic issues currently impacting the U.S. health care world. Just released in September of 2023, this anthology on the intersection of art and medicine offers a poignant look at the history, practice and future of radical creativity in the industry.

Written and edited by health care marketing veteran and self-proclaimed “health care raconteur” Emily F. Peters, in collaboration with 25 artist changemakers, this book explores new frontiers for addressing the broken and inefficient structures that characterize our present day health care model.

“Artists Remaking Medicine” looks at how art practices can be harnessed to create better health care delivery experiences for all involved, from doctors to patients to family members. In particular, health system designers and managers should take note of this book’s powerful, elegant and inclusive ideas relative to the work they’re engaged in.

The book includes contributions from artists, designers, doctors, musicians, nurses and patients — many of whom, like Peters herself, lay claim to more than one of these titles.

In addition to an opening section on the use of art in medicine throughout history, the book is rich with stories, collaborative exchanges and commissioned art that explores the intersection of health care. It includes a look at themes such as time, the body, sight, space, sound, color, dreams and action as they relate to health care environments. 

For example, the “sound” theme explores the world of a group of musicians who are passionately engaged in enhancing the soundscapes of medical care. Then there’s the “dream” theme chapter that captures the essence of Indigenous futurism in medicine and protest art.  

“The artists in this book show how complexity, which can feel paralyzing, can also be fuel for creativity in medicine,” says Peters. “To me, there is no one better suited than an artist to truthfully observe health care; the stories of life-saving inventions, of centuries-old professional culture, of burnout and moral fatigue, and of harm.” 

Peters adds that the book began as a single thread of an idea before morphing into a broader, more expansive look at how artists are fueling health care change. Her original plan was to write a book simply about change in medicine, a pivot she made after discovering the deeper impact that artists can have on transforming health care. 

An inflection point that helped catalyze the message she sought to deliver was her own sobering health crisis in 2016 where she woke up in a hospital ICU. 

“As a patient, seeing it from that side made me want to do more to try to create change in our sector,” she says. “So the book explores ways in which we can foster not only tactical changes in the health care space but also make some shifts culturally in imagining a better health care future.” 

Peters points to the tendency among industry leaders to play the blame game as a key reason why problems within the health care system continue to spiral out of control. Health care costs, she says, are just one example of this. 

“As it relates to the business side of health care and medicine, I often think of right here in Northern California, which has one of the most expensive health care markets in the nation,” she notes. “Our costs and insurance rates here are much, much higher than in most other places, including California as a whole and other states across the country.”

So the book, says Peters, is a call to action to “do the hard work of being an optimist, of thinking about the future, of just asking and starting to demand what we want in terms of change. This is true if you are a physician, if you are a nurse, if you are an administrator; if you are an artist, or a patient. It’s really all of us getting together and proclaiming that enough is enough.” 

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