Indoor climate and well-being
Interior design

Impact of Natural Light on Outcomes in Healthcare Settings

1 January 1

After many years of research, there is no doubting that exposure to nature has a favourable impact on health, wellness, and general pleasure – even to the point where green areas promote prosocial behaviour. In this article, we focus on the importance of natural light on outcomes in healthcare settings.

Rockfon Eclipse used in a Hospital to draw in more natural light

Rockfon Eclipse in Morriston Hospital, UK

The interior design of your healthcare building has the potential to substantially improve a patient's visit. You can utilise it to alleviate stress and encourage relaxation in a variety of ways, even if it's as simple as changing the decoration in waiting areas.  

Biophilic Design in Hospitals 

Often, a potted plant on a plastic laminate counter is used to simulate "nature" in healthcare facilities. Hospital trusts should consider the potential saving of $93 million [1] in annual healthcare costs by giving patients access to nature through views of the outdoors. Natural textures should also be used in hospital interiors because in biophilic environments, post-operative recovery time decreased by 8.5% [1] and pain medication decreased by 22% [2]

Biophilic design ideas are used in healthcare facilities to improve patient outcomes and reduce staff stress. Healthcare designers may make hospitals more comfortable by making basic choices — such as employing more natural building materials or incorporating more natural lighting. 

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This may appear to be a novel concept, yet it dates back to 1984. Biophilia was promoted by Edward O. Wilson as a human need for constant connection to the natural world. 

Even though this concept is about 40 years old, it is gaining traction. This is related to the increasing urbanisation of the world, as individuals suffer a lack of nature in their daily lives. In 2021, the degree of urbanisation worldwide was at around 56% [3]. In Europe, the urban population constituted 75% of the entire population [3]. This rate is steadily increasing.

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What is the meaning of biophilic design?

Biophilic design ties industrial structures to the natural environment. Biophilia is the theory that humans have a natural urge to engage with and be in nature.

What Does Biophilic Design Mean in Health Centres? 

Several studies have found that biophilic design reduces anxiety and so improves sleep. The many advantages of having a biophilic design in hospitals and health care facilities include: 

  • Good ventilation means less spread of infectious illness, whilst fresh air reduces stress. 
  • Sound-absorbing materials minimise noise levels, reduce distractions and errors, and reduce tiredness in both personnel and patients. 
  • Optimised natural light reduces the length of hospital stays as well as levels of pain, depression, weariness, and the need for medicine. 
  • A connection to nature or natural elements improves emotional well-being. 
  • Indoor gardens encourage more social contact. 
  • The use of natural materials improves the comfort and pleasantness of the hospital environment. 

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What Does Biophilic Design Consist Of? 

Biophilic design begins with the genuine presence of nature in a room. Living plants, views of nature, the sound of moving water, and other sensory cues offer patients a direct connection to nature. Employees also work better when they have access to the outdoors via a garden or sunroom. 

Natural materials also provide indirect connections to the outside world via substance and colour. Wood or granite - with visible texture and grain - are a good idea, alongside nature-themed wall art. These methods reduces stress and improve well-being in both patients and caregivers. 

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Finally, what can patients see beyond their immediate surroundings or outside the window? Poor architecture that limits visual exposure to the outdoors reduces recovery rates and increases staff churn. Patients who have greater visual access to natural light and outdoor spaces, on the other hand, have fewer issues, and those who care for them are also happier. 

In 1984, Dr. Roger Ulrich noticed that patients in hospital rooms with views of nature and water recovered faster than those who stared at a brick wall all day. The nature group used fewer medicines and were discharged faster than the other group.  

However, given that three decades of research have supported Ulrich's claim, it's surprising that more hospitals haven't embraced biophilic design concepts. 

The Significance of Natural Light on Patient Health 

Within the healthcare sector, natural light is very important for staff efficiency, cleanliness, and patient well-being.  

The Negative Effects of Artificial Lighting 

Artificial lighting advancements have enabled architects to develop larger and deeper buildings with numerous enclosed regions that do not rely on natural lighting for illumination at all. While these locations are habitable, they can have a detrimental impact on general well-being and productivity, as well as a lack of efficiency. 

Patients in windowless rooms frequently report increased levels of stress and, in some extreme circumstances, may be affected by Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). 

The Benefits of Natural Light in Hospitals 

Natural light and views from windows, on the other hand, can provide health benefits to both patients and hospital staff: 

Shorten the duration of in-patient stays  

According to studies, patients admitted to brighter rooms spend up to 41% less time in the hospital than those assigned to darker or windowless rooms [4]. Patients in darker rooms had a higher mortality rate. 

Accelerate post-operative recovery  

Patients recovering from surgery who are in rooms with lots of natural light and good views are less anxious and have lower blood pressure, which is critical for healing. Patients in windowless rooms, on the other hand, are more likely to experience depression and suffer postoperative delirium. This can cause an increase in inflammation in the body, which increases pain and makes healing more difficult. 

Contribute to more effective pain alleviation  

Approximately 22% of patients in bright, natural light rooms use less pain medication[2]

Boost employee morale 

Employee attitudes and productivity are improved by natural illumination, providing a boost staff energy levels. Employees in a hospital with access to natural light and views of nature report lower stress levels and health-related absenteeism. 

What are the Natural Lighting Levels Suitable for Hospitals? 

The most essential considerations for window design are the amount of daylight that enters a space, the view, patient privacy, and proximity to the window. Patients generally prefer windows that take up at least 25% of an exterior wall, with many choosing rooms with two or more windows.  

Multiple studies have found that strong lights (at least 2,500 lux) with short white or blue wavelengths are the most useful to patients. This is especially true for Alzheimer's or dementia patients, who have been proven to have less agitation later in the day and better sleep-wake cycles. 

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For hospital ceilings, our smooth, deep matt, super white sound-absorbing ceiling tiles like Rockfon® Mono® Acoustic and Rockfon Blanka® which have 87% light reflection and more than 99% light diffusion. These products not only offer excellent sound absorption but also contribute to energy savings and a bright and comfortable indoor environment. 

Skylights meanwhile provide constant natural light throughout the day, providing all of the benefits of a vertical window with the extra benefit of privacy. 

Conclusions on Biophilic Hospital Design 

A shift is undoubtedly occurring in the design of healthcare facilities, with much greater emphasis on patient-wellbeing. Biophilic design is a useful, cost-effective approach which features fresh air, green views and sufficient natural daylight to improve the health of patients and healthcare professionals. 

 

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Sources: 

(1) "The Economics Of Biophilia". 2022. Terrapinbrightgreen.Com. https://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/reports/the-economics-of-biophilia/

(2) Park, Man Young, Choul-Gyun Chai, Hae-Kyung Lee, Hani Moon, and Jai Sung Noh. “The Effects of Natural Daylight on Length of Hospital Stay.” Environmental health insights. SAGE Publications, December 3, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6287302/

(3) "Urbanization By Continent 2021 | Statista". 2022. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/270860/urbanization-by-continent/

(4) "Impact Of Light On Outcomes In Healthcare Settings". 2022. The Center For Health Design. https://www.healthdesign.org/chd/research/impact-light-outcomes-healthcare-settings.