Will Doctors Start Prescribing “Coloring Books”?

The always brilliant Jane Sarasohn-Kahn recently published a great post talking about the health benefits of coloring books on her Health Populi blog. Here’s an excerpt from what she calls the Health Populi Hot Points (Note: Her Hot Points are the best part of her points):

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  As anxiety and depression permeate the public health burden in the U.S. and beyond, people seek solutions and hacks to live well. Based on the market demand for coloring books, it’s clear adults are picking up Crayolas, Sharpie’s, and colored pencils as an antidote to stress and sadness.

Coloring is part of artistic expression; as more people engage with arts, the healthier they can be, based on advice from The National Center for Creative Aging. The Center hosted a conference in 2014 focused on the role of artistic expression in the lives of older adults to improve health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that for people over 65, those involved in weekly art programs had fewer doctor visits and took less medication than people without creative opportunities.

Dr. Marc Agronin, Medical Director for Mental Health and Clinical Research at the Miami Jewish Health Systems (MJHS), Florida’s largest long-term care organization, noted, “a growing body of evidence indicating that creative programs for older adults improve the health and wellness of older adults.”

Consider this a form of full-on consumer-directed health.

Jane’s post has more details on the adult coloring book trend and some of the benefits. You can go and read the full post. We’ll be here when you get back.

After her reading her post, I wondered if we’d ever see a doctor “prescribing” a coloring book to a patient. Based on some of the benefits she describes, we probably should have doctors prescribing them. However, I think it’s going to be a long time before we actually see it happening.

For some reason I think that prescribing something as simple as a coloring book doesn’t feel like medicine. I’m sure many doctors would discount coloring books as medicine. However, patients are as much of the problem as doctors. If I paid the co-pay to see my doctor and he prescribed coloring books, I’d likely feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth.

Certainly, we could debate the medical benefits of adult coloring books (I’m certainly no expert and would happily look at other evidence), but the principle is the point. Are there simple solutions like an adult coloring book that could be just as powerful for our health as the prescription pad? I think so.

I’m reminded of my experience working in a counseling center. I’ll never forget when one of the counselors informed me that studies had shown that exercise had a greater benefit to those with depression than even drugs. However, it’s easier to prescribe a drug than it is to convince a depressed patient to work out. Not to mention many patients likely wouldn’t appreciate a prescription to exercise more.

I think this is just one more reason why it’s not likely doctors that will shift the cost curve in healthcare. No doubt many of us listen to and trust our doctors in a unique way. However, I have a feeling that many of these messages about our health are more likely to be delivered by someone closer to a social worker, care manager, or nurse than our doctor. Being sent some adult coloring books by a care manager would likely be taken quite different than a doctor “prescribing” them to a patient.

Of course, as Jane aptly notes, anyone can buy a coloring book, so things like this are as much about consumer-directed health as it is a shift in what doctors and their medical staff do. In fact, the most successful doctors in this changing health system might be doctors who learn to empower their patients in their own efforts to improve their health.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • John, thanks so much for picking this coloring-health post up and covering it on The EMR and EHR blog. I think your own commentary is spot-on: this is consumer-directed health akin to our grandmother’s kitchen table wisdom or uncle taking us fishing — some of the best therapies are just “being,” creating, getting calm, into nature, into our own thoughts, journaling, cooking, gardening…all creative outlets, which have growing evidence of helping us to stay well, positive, and young-living. Best to you and your family for a wonderful 4th, and do something fun and creative together! We’ll be slow cooking a lot – Robert will smoke wild trout, I’ll grill vegetables just picked up from our local CSA, and we’ll pour some really good wine and relax. Be well!

  • The more a person is active in creative areas, IMO, the better, up to a point.

    So, in respect of coloring books, why not, except that isn’t this paint-by-numbers all over again?

    It appears that different activities sustain/evolve the brain in different ways – spending all day doing crosswords or sudoku will only get you so far.

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