How Natural Sunlight Can Positively Affect the Operating Room

Newly built hospital operating rooms are generally equipped with the newest technologies and functionality to perform surgeries efficiently. But one environmental factor that is often left out may be working its way into the OR construction dialogue: natural sunlight.

CO Architects in Los Angeles is an architectural firm that specializes in research on healthcare facilities design. Tom Chessum, principal and a project director at CO Architects, says open areas that allow natural light and outdoor views into an OR can change the character of both the room and the staff.

Benefits of OR natural sunlight
The Electric Light Orchestra song "Mr. Blue Sky" centers on the good feelings associated with natural sunlight. Similarly, Mr. Chessum says sunlight can increase OR staff alertness, can decrease fatigue, can reduce stress and can give an appreciation for the time of day. He says that some procedures and times will call for a reduction in natural sunlight into the room, but that won't necessarily lead to operating and surgical inefficiencies. At least having the option to open the OR to daylight is the flexibility any room should have, he says. "The people who work there work long hours," Mr. Chessum says. "Ultimately, the care is going to be improved, the staff retention is going to be better and staff recruitment will be better."

Natural sunlight near an operating room at San Diego-based Palomar Medical Center West, constructed by CO Architects.Challenges and solutions of natural light in the OR
Mr. Chessum says the primary difficulties of establishing daylight in an OR are "functional adjacency demands." More or less, introducing the element of daylight is competing for space in the OR. This includes wall space, floor space and ceiling space that might need to be reserved for displays, smart technologies, equipment, supplies and general walking or standing areas.

ORs also require various forms of access, Mr. Chessum notes. There is patient access, physician and surgeon access, nurse access, material and supplies access and others, so the OR is fairly surrounded with demands on its space. So while opening a wall or a ceiling for a large window or skylight may not always be feasible, Mr. Chessum says designing the natural light spots in adjoining corridors or courtyards could circumnavigate those challenges while still providing glimpses of the outdoors.

Gradual adaptation

Mr. Chessum says the past five or so years have seen an increase in the discussion of natural light in the OR. Many hospitals in Europe have incorporated natural sunlight into their designs and even into some building codes, and Mr. Chessum thinks the OR setup is starting to factor in more work environment-centered initiatives in the United States. "I think we're heading there in a less prescriptive way and more in a qualitative way," Mr. Chessum says. "We're being challenged to provide an environment that meets everyday human needs, and we're not being told how to do it."

Related Articles on OR Efficiency:
6 Steps to Ensure Operating Room Safety and Efficiency
4 Benefits of a Hybrid Operating Room
Study: Foot Gel Pads May Improve OR Staff Alertness, Comfort

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