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Room Without A View

January 18, 2010

A family member recently spent several nights in the hospital and when I visited her room, my first thought was:

Are the patients assumed to be blind?

The view from the bed consisted of a white board with patient details, a spare surgical mask hanging in a plastic pouch, a patient FAQ sheet and a chair. There was no attempt to create a comforting experience that could reduce the stress of an unwanted situation – a stay in the hospital.

The need to improve the visual experience in hospitals has been identified before by IDEO, the innovation firm, who have designed better patient experiences. In one project, they sent a designer armed with a video camera into the ER as a patient to capture the view from the bed. It was found that much of the time was spent staring up at the empty ceiling.

It has been shown that a view of nature, whether out of a window or on the wall, reduces stress. In his book, Building for Life: Designing and Understanding The Human-Nature Connection, Stephen Kellert, Professor of Social Ecology at Yale University, sites a study that found patients with landscapes on their walls had significantly less anxiety and demands for strong pain medication.

A stay in the hospital is full of stress-inducing stimuli – staff talking in the hall, your roommate talking in his sleep, the nurse checking your condition throughout the night, the intravenous machine beeping. With much of this unavoidable, the visual experience represents a realistic opportunity for improving the patient experience. By rearranging the elements that appear to be randomly placed throughout the room, space would be freed up for stress-reducing landscape photographs and paintings.

This relocation exercise is also an opportunity to improve efficiency and communication in the room. For example, a caregiver helping a patient in bed has to leave the patient to reach the mask hanging across the room. Similarly, information sheets intended for the patient hung far from the bed aren’t going to be read. Placing the equipment and information in more appropriate places could improve the health care experience for both care giver and patient.

There are no doubt larger refinements, architectural and procedural for example, that could be designed to improve the hospital room experience but they bring with them the challenge of coordinating many players and interests not to mention a significant financial burden. Until larger change happens, let’s start with getting art on the walls and help increase the speed of recovery. Once we improve the visual experience, we can tackle the food quality, and so on and so on.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2010 2:58 pm

    “Context matters more than form” John Maeda

  2. Jamie permalink*
    January 19, 2010 3:54 pm

    I agree with John Maeda. The context of a hospital room is one filled with stress on both sides of the hospital bed. Hanging landscape images is less about hanging pretty pictures and more about reducing that stress and its negative effects. In the process, there is also the opportunity to improve the function within the room.

  3. Jamie permalink*
    December 23, 2011 12:10 pm

    This CNN article about American architect Michael Graves’ illness and subsequent focus on designing better hospital rooms is relevant to this blog post:

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/15/health/graves-hospital-design/?hpt=he_c1

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