The concept of color, light, design, and layout having an actual effect on patient health and well-being is not a new one. It dates back to the ancient Chinese discipline of feng shui, which studies how best to direct energy flow through habitats. It’s no surprise, then, that a growing number of professionals are becoming interested in the field of healthcare interior design, and just how a space is decorated and arranged can have measurable results on a patient’s comfort and healing process.
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Designing a hospital or other healing environment involves much more than simple aesthetic concerns, however. While the end result desired is certainly a beautiful, restful, and pleasing facility arranged to alleviate anxiety and stress, there are specific issues that need to be addressed when choosing materials, arranging space, and building features.
Attention to detail has been proven to psychologically boost both patients and healthcare staff. For example, when chosen correctly, design materials can assist in maintaining a clean and safe hospital environment. Light and color choices can serve as assistive devices for some patients.
The American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID), founded in 2004, executes a rigorous certification program especially for designers who are interested in working specifically in the arena of healthcare facility design and meeting these challenges head on.
You may be surprised by some of these factors. Just to get an idea of some of the things these designers need to consider (which may surprise you), here are a few key points identified by the Construction Management Group SSOE, which employ professionals certified by the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers.
- Surfaces (floors, countertops) should be seam-free.
- Surfaces also need to have a matte, rather than gleaming finish, in order to reduce glare (which can be stressful to patients).
- Aging patients’ vision requires designers to consider contrast in order to increase visibility of assistive devices such as handrails.
- Special scale concerns are in play when designing for pediatric or bariatric patients.
- Ferrous material can interfere with MRI unit operation, so structures should not have any built-in steel.
- Wall treatments require special durability measures as they withstand many more bumps and scratches than your average space.
- Carpets and upholstery must be antibacterial.
- Some less desirable materials, such as rubber, are often worked with/around due to their combination of durability and anti-bacterial quality. However, the range of anti-bacterial design materials is growing rapidly due to demand, and there are now many choices available.
In addition to these concrete (and scientific) concerns, there are still more special touches that designers can use to assist in the healing process on a more psychological level.
- Studies have shown that calming, nature-based design–utilizing wood materials, natural light, and pleasing artwork–can reduce the length of some patients’ hospital stays as well as their need for pain medication.
- A simple but very effective way to reduce stress is to manage noise levels. Designers can work with soundproof materials in order to create a quieter and more restful space.
- Private rooms can include dedicated space for loved ones to relax or even spend the night.
- A unique concept is the idea of an “art cart”–a process that allows a patient to have a hand in his or her own healing environment. How it works: A volunteer goes to the rooms of newly checked-in patients with a selection of artwork to choose from. The patient selects the one he/she likes most, and the picture is then hung on the wall to enjoy.
Want to see some examples of these principles put to work? Soliant compiles an annual list of the nation’s Top 20 Most Beautiful Hospitals, with this year’s contenders featuring such useful/aesthetic inclusions as individually adjustable zone-specific lighting, natural hardwood floors, tree-filled interior spaces, and state-indigenous materials. With design like this, who wouldn’t feel better…faster?
Click here to nominate a Hospital for Soliant’s 2014 Most Beautiful Hospitals in America!