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Is there a Buddha’s head ornament in your clinic?

Updated: Apr 6, 2018

How you design and decorate your clinic can have implications more complicated than you might have imagined. It is part of a message you give to patients regarding the style of medical practice you wish to pursue. For example, the design of biomedical spaces accentuates efficiency and sterility. Floors are covered with cold linoleum tiles and the air is filled with the beeps and buzzes of medical machinery. Patients are expected to lie on the exam table under fluorescent lighting as they notice the pungency of antiseptics. In this kind of biomedical environment, patients are expected to become a technical object of diagnostic procedures rather than a social being with desires for deep relaxation and empathy.

So it is not all about functionality; the visual presentation, medical instruments, smells and sounds all make up the aesthetics of your clinic which can be so powerful in shaping patients’ perception and experience of the care they receive.

Then how do the aesthetic elements of clinic influence the way patients perceive holistic, natural care that you intend to provide? How should you decorate your walls, reception area, and the exam room accordingly?

Some cultural anthropologists have tried to answer this question in Western societies and Anderson through his research in multiple locations of acupuncture offices in Ireland argues that the key lies in looking “Asian, but not too Asian”. That is, you have to strike a right balance between exoticism and professionalism. For example, you can hang up the prints of Chinese calligraphy and anatomical charts mapping meridians on the wall. But be sure to put your acupuncturist license or diploma and some news articles addressing the efficacy of acupuncture along with those decorations. Similarly, you can play New Age music and wind chimes with burning incense. Just don’t forget to wear a uniform. That way, your office imparts a sense of relaxation and mysticism while you still appear legitimate as a medical professional.

Above examples should be read in the given context, though. In hectic urban centers of Ireland, patients seek for acupuncture to find therapeutic comfort and take pressure off their shoulder. In this particular cultural context, acupuncture serves as a critique of biomedicine and decorating the clinic with Asian themes helps patients construct their practice as counter to biomedical practices – thus, natural, relaxing, and holistic. At the same time, it is important to note that the practitioners in this research were mostly of non-Asian descent and, as such, their clinic took on Asian appearances more explicitly to establish authenticity.

So perhaps the real key here is not just looking moderately Asian, but to be relevant to your own context of practice. Depending on the cultural significance of your medical service and your own position and identity within the society, you can come up with a unique way to design the clinic in a way that facilitates your goal.

Reference: Kevin Taylor Anderson (2010) Holistic Medicine Not “Torture”: Performing Acupuncture in Galway, Ireland, MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, 29:3, 253-277, DOI: 10.1080/01459740.2010.488662



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