Natural light could be key to patient-centered hospital design

A new trend in patient-centered hospital design centers on making spaces more welcoming and comfortable through natural light, Wired reported Jan. 5.

There have been numerous studies in recent years — including one on the effect of sunlight on medication use and another on how hospital design affects patients’ pain levels — demonstrating that exposure to natural light and the outdoors can help alleviate pain and stress, according to the report.

"The ambient environment influences our senses," Rana Zadeh, PhD, co-director and co-founder of the Health Design Innovations Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., told Wired. "The spatial environment influences how we can move and circulate. These are important in healthcare settings."

For example, Penn Medicine's flagship hospital in Philadelphia opened a new pavilion in October that centered its design on creating a comfortable environment for patients to heal, according to the report. 

Because sleep is essential to healing, the hospital features "onstage" and "offstage" areas to reduce noise and disruptions. Patients' rooms are "onstage," lining the outside of the building. Supply rooms, medication rooms and areas for staff breaks are "offstage," clustered in the middle of the building.

Each room in the pavilion has a large window, which helps patients foster healthy sleep-wake patterns. The windows were also included in each room to reduce common hospital complications such as delirium by allowing patients to orient themselves to the outside world.

"Part of the best care might be keeping people calm, giving them space to be alone—things that might seem frivolous but are really important," Annmarie Adams, PhD, a professor at Montreal-based McGill University who studies the history of hospital architecture, told Wired.

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