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Wigan Today: "Heart-throb hunks help patients relax"

April 22, 2006 -- Today Wigan Today (U.K.) ran an unsigned item about hospital nurses who have placed posters featuring male celebrities and nature scenes on the ceiling of a gynecological exam room. Leigh Infirmary staff nurse Rachel Lowe reportedly came up with the idea for the collage of posters, though the inclusion of hunky men was a suggestion from the patients themselves. This story does lend itself to the lighthearted tone the item employs. But it's also the kind of nursing intervention that can make a real difference for patients, as hospital nurses in Japan recently showed in research on the relaxing effect of music on the blood pressure of patients having catheter tests. We urge those involved in the ceiling collage to consider research exploring whether such images may actually help improve patient outcomes.

The piece notes that the staff at Leigh Infirmary have pinned the posters on the ceiling of an exam room in the hospital's "gynaecology day surgery and outpatients unit," in order to "help patients' minds wander" during exams. Poster subjects include Brad Pitt, George Clooney, David Beckham, and Jess Metcalfe from "Desperate Housewives," as well as "idyllic tropical beach scenes, dolphins and puppies." The piece relies on quotes from an unnamed "spokesman" for the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, who explains:

The posters are in the coloscopy clinic where ladies go for examinations. Patients can be lying on their backs for up to 15 minutes while procedures are carried out. The posters were suggested by Rachel Lowe [who] thought it would be nice to give patients something to look at other than the ceiling tiles. She mentioned it to her ward manager, Julie Cook, and with the help of other staff members they have made a collage of pictures. There used to be a poster of a polar bear skidding in the snow on the ceiling, but then they asked patients for suggestions and they said they would like to see pictures of men up there.

One unnamed patient notes: "The pictures are a great idea. They are something pleasant to look at while you're lying there. It's a nice distraction."

We're not sure if all women would look forward to the idea of Brad Pitt looking down at them during this particular procedure. But assuming that the women at this hospital do (or that they would at least favor some attractive image), it seems like the kind of thing that might merit outcomes-oriented research along the lines of that conducted by the hospital nurses in Japan. Is it possible that happier, more relaxed patients would be more forthcoming in care discussions with health providers? Might they be more likely to keep their appointments if they had Brad to look forward to? And what about the patients who may prefer Angelina? Or nature scenes? How about a ceiling-mounted monitor or projector that would allow each patient to select her own images, perhaps with music? And why limit the research to gynecological exams? Some dental offices place televisions in front of patients getting routine dental care, though this is not always pleasant for patients unless they are allowed to choose the images/entertainment for themselves.

We should note that our enthusiasm for this kind of imagery in a health setting of course depends on it not creating any kind of inappropriately sexual or otherwise hostile work environment. No patient or health worker should be subjected to any image that he or she reasonably finds to be offensive.

We thank Wigan Today for its coverage of this important topic.

See the article "Heart-throb hunks help patients relax" in the April 22, 2006 edition of Wigan Today.