Clockwork Architecture + Design

Patients reap the rewards of 'healing architecture'

Chris Jimenez - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I know a hospital administrator who would repeatedly remind his employees, “We’re selling a service no one wants.” It was his way of reinforcing the importance of making every patient visit as comfortable as possible. Because – let’s face it – no one wants to go to the doctor. Ever.

Doctor visits (and, even worse, hospital stays) are inherently stressful—invasive tests and procedures, the discomfort of an illness, the worry about the bill. And stress is a destructive force. Even as we’re visiting the doctor to get better, our body is working against itself as it wrestles with anxiety and fear.

However, health care providers are learning more about how to enhance the power of the environment that surrounds the patient to better their experience. By working with forward-thinking architecture and design firms, these hospitals and clinics are creating physical sanctuaries that promote healing and reduce stress—giving treatments a much better chance to work.

Let the light shine in

Sunlight heals! Natural sunlight and a view to the outside are now playing a larger role in health care design.

The research has proven its power: One study from the Department of Neuropsychiatric Sciences at the University of Milan found that bipolar patients assigned to an east-facing room with access to bright, morning sunlight reduced their hospital stay by four days, as compared with patients in west-facing rooms. Another study looked at heart patients in the critical care unit. Those with rooms that overlooked sunny areas had a lower mortality rate than those with rooms that overlooked shadowed areas.

The benefits are not limited to sunlight, of course, as new advances in LED technology are demonstrating. Building Design + Construction reports:

“Although LED lighting usually gets attention as a money-saving, energy-saving strategy … it can also bring measurable improvements to a facility’s performance in terms of patient recovery times, patient experience, medical staff performance, and staff job satisfaction.”

Get back to nature

Even as our society becomes increasingly more technology-centered, we still inherently crave that basic connection to the natural world. While a sunny view is nice, a sunny view of a garden has a much more profound effect on healing than a sunny view of a brick wall or a rooftop covered in HVAC equipment. In fact, research from Roger Ulrich, director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M, has proven that just looking at certain aspects of the natural world can “significantly ameliorate stress within only five minutes or less.”

In addition, it turns out that pictures of nature and unexpected imagery are almost as good as the real thing. One study reported by Ulrich showed that, “Compared to patients assigned abstract pictures and control groups given no pictures, patients exposed to a nature view of water and trees [had] less anxiety and required fewer strong pain doses.”

Anne Stahl, one of our project designers, recently integrated a lively mural along the patient corridors of one of our health care projects. The art interacts with daylight, providing a calming experience of discovery and enjoyment.

More than just a pretty space

We were excited to bring many of these best practices to life with a recent project we worked on in Annapolis, Md. Children’s National Health System was relocating one of its clinics, and we partnered with their staff to create a truly one-of-a-kind environment for their pediatric patients.

Instead of one large waiting room, we designed several separate wait areas for a more personal (and private) experience. We made sure to include large windows to let in as much daylight (and views of nature) as possible. Throughout the clinic, we also infused many natural wood elements to cut down on the “institutional” feel and carry that connection with nature through the patient journey.

One of my favorite features is the furniture in the waiting areas, which I describe as “part furniture, part exploration.” The seating is comfortable for parents but allows kids to climb and explore—instead of just sitting in a chair and worrying.

Amy Goodwin, executive director of public relations and corporate communications for Children’s National, said the new space has been well-received by patients and their families:

“There’s beautiful art that’s colorful, exciting, very modern. The lighting is subtle and takes advantage of all the natural light, and it just has a very warm feel. It doesn’t feel like a clinical space. You can go there and get the best possible pediatric care; at the same time, you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital or a physician’s office.”

We’re excited to continue our work on even more projects that incorporate this type of “healing architecture.” All of us at Clockwork believe design is more than just an afterthought or matter of aesthetics, and whether it’s a corporate office space, residential apartment, bank or pediatric clinic, we love helping our clients create a space that just feels good.

Chester Bartels is a principal at Clockwork, an architecture + design firm ready to align with forward thinkers and progressive leaders. How has design improved the patient experience for you? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page or on Twitter @ClockworkAD.

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