The Impact of Healthcare Facility Design on Clinical Health
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Hospitals, places of healing that have been part of society for thousands of years, are known as institutions that facilitate the healing of unwell individuals. Most would describe a hospital as a necessary and positive asset, one essential to any society that wishes to exist and thrive. This is certainly true, yet what do people imagine when they visualize a hospital environment? This visualization often causes discomfort as an unpleasant image emerges: white walls, hard floors, scary instruments, doctors and nurses running to and fro, and the constant noise of patients, doctors and medical equipment. Some have gone so far as to compare hospitals to prisons, where upon admission one’s clothes and choices are taken away, and monochromatic walls and serious faces make up most of the surroundings. Many take it for granted that this is just the way that hospitals are, and that’s the way they must be. Do we ever stop to consider that the way hospitals “are” may not actually be conducive to healing? What if the lonely white walls, the steel instruments, and the noisy atmosphere actually have tangible adverse effects on health? In recent years, environmental psychologists, biologist, and neuroscientists have set out to determine how environment plays a large role in how a person feels. There are over 650 studies in peer-reviewed journals written on this topic and how it relates to clinical outcomes (Malkin, 2008). Space, colors, noise, the presence of nature, can all affect mood, and even anxiety or stress levels of an individual. Anxiety and stress have proven to be biologically detrimental to any person, let alone an individual suffering from a serious ailment. Many studies have shown how stress adversely affects a person’s health and wellbeing, which as an obvious impediment to the recovery of patients. 2 According to the Samueli Institute, a good healing space is essential to healing. This idea has been known for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. The Greeks, for example, had special temples that were designated just for healing. These temples had elements of nature, art, and music that were to help the healing process. Florence Nightingale was a big believer that fresh air, natural light and quiet surroundings were all necessary to the healing process. A “hard setting” will hinder the healing process, but a “supportive design” can help the healing process, along with drugs and whatever medical treatment the patient needs (Zborowsky and Kreitzer, 2008). In this paper I will discuss the details of how stress adversely affects the health of an individual and how different aspects of a hospital can actually act as stressors. I will explore how the design of a health facility can reduce stress and medical errors, leading to better care and improved overall wellbeing of a patient. Finally, I will suggest practical changes that could be implemented to achieve this end.
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