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Healthcare Design: Creating Healing Environments for Improved Patient Outcomes

“Hospitals need new packaging, brand new dress that bespeaks health and happiness rather than sickness and suffering, hope instead of despair….What is being done to create for the patient surroundings that make him want to live, that restore to him the old fight to regain his health?” ~ Dorothy Draper, from In the Pink

In 1940, the Delnor hospital opened with beautiful interiors designed by Dorothy Draper. Designed as a “house of hope and cheer,” rooms were painted in pastel shades and trimmed with vibrant floral chintz curtains and bedspreads. Wallpaper and artwork adorned the walls, and meals were served on rose-painted china. Chicago Daily News reporter Olney Fred Sweet wrote, “Visitors agree that throughout, Delnor Hospital gives the impression of a place where one may not only gain strength but be refreshed in mind.”

Ms. Draper’s healthcare design philosophy was certainly ahead of the times. She would most assuredly be thrilled to see that overall, healthcare design tenets today are changing and, increasingly, facilities are engaging designers to create healing environments that reduce stress, and promote harmony of mind, body, and spirit.

A number of studies have linked the physical environment of hospitals to health outcomes and research has demonstrated how specific design changes in health care environments can reduce stress and the negative outcomes associated with it. Here are some ways research has shown how organizations can make design changes to alleviate stress and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

1. Connection to Nature

Evidence shows that even a few minutes of contact with nature can significantly reduce stress, increase pleasant feelings. and create a calming effect. This can be achieved by providing views to the outside, interior gardens or aquariums, or even artwork with a nature theme. Studies show that patients in rooms that receive more sunlight may be less depressed and have shorter stays. Windows are now considered a therapeutic component of patient rooms.

2. Noise Reduction

Good design can reduce noise from paging systems, equipment, alarms, ice makers, roommates, and staff, making hospitalization less stressful and more restful for patients.

3. Better Wayfinding

Designers are using color, images, and signage to better orient patients and families and help them find their destination. A thoughtful layout that makes it easier for frail patients to get around by themselves increases their independence and sense of control, reducing stress.

4. Social Support

Support from family and close friends can help in healing. Social support can be promoted by providing waiting rooms and lounges with comfortable furniture, designing patient rooms to accommodate visitors, and providing amenities such as sofas that covert to a bed, separate reading lights, and Internet access.

5. Private Rooms

Private rooms reduce the risk of infection and are also more efficient. Rooms designed to provide access to the patient’s support network will give patients a greater sense of control and reduce stress. In addition to having more privacy, patients in private rooms have their sleep disrupted less often.

6. Premium Materials

It’s no secret that high-grade materials are the best choices to withstand the rigors of commercial settings and deliver on the ROI. Using premium hard surface materials such as porcelain, glass or even stainless steel tiles will provide a beautiful aesthetic to horizontal and vertical surfaces, in addition to being hard-wearing and easy-to-maintain. Hard surface materials may contribute to improved patient outcomes because they are sanitary and are a preferred option for supporting indoor air quality in healing environments.

Dorothy Draper relied on her razor-sharp intuition and common sense when addressing healthcare design well over a half-century ago. But today, healthcare administrators charged with building and renovating facilities can rely on solid research in order to use their limited resources in ways that offer the most value to patients, family, and staff. Continued research and studies giving evidence of these and many other benefits of facility design on patient well-being and outcomes will go a long way in changing the standard in hospital facility design.


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