Improving Hospital Stays with Environmental Design

Pen, stethoscope, and a doctor's logbookWhen somebody refers to hospital or clinic interiors, the images that spring to mind are sparsely-decorated, neutrally colored walls coupled with the odd potted plant and graphic health posters smattering the halls. It’s not about to win any awards for its interior design, that’s for sure. But, to be fair, healthcare facilities are committed to accommodating and treating patients — how aesthetically pleasing an environment they present has never been the priority.

This way of looking at healthcare in institutions may be changing, however. Using art as a healthcare tool might be the norm in the future.

Hospital administrators recognize the irony of an incredibly busy and stressful hospital environment being a negative influence on the state of patients’ health instead of promoting it and nurturing their well-being. This has led to the increasingly popular use of large-scale wall graphics in hospital interior design elements across the country, which serve as pleasant distractions and wayfinding aids.

The Calming Effect of Environmental Design

Environmental design in hospitals includes much more than standard murals and replicas of famous paintings. Interior design experts believe that improving patient environment has a lot to do with pleasing and thoughtful visual elements incorporated across a healthcare facility’s premises.

The most common use of graphics is to add interest to large walls that will help patients relax. A waiting room for the MRI scanning section, for example, can use a calming image of a sunset-tinged lake to distract patients (especially children) and take their minds off of the unfamiliar procedure.

Graphics also help break up large, blank stretches of corridor walls to give patients something to occupy their attention. Images that depict natural landscapes and sights work particularly well in immersing and calming down patients who would otherwise be preoccupied with their illnesses and conditions. This is especially important for patients who have spent a long time in the confines of hospital walls.

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Patient-inspired Design

It’s also important to implement graphics that suit a particular healthcare environment. Designs for a pediatric wing might call for fascinating, colorful subjects with plenty of curious elements to distract children sufficiently from ongoing clinical procedures. Meanwhile, elderly care facilities can feature imagery that evokes nostalgia and all associated feelings from the occupants’time as a youth.

Consistency and Convenience Through Design Theme

Some hospitals take environmental design a step further by choosing an overarching theme for the graphic elements to promote a consistent and engaging experience. Going for an upstate New York theme, for example, utilizes the region’s distinct architectural icons and natural settings to create a cohesive environmental design that appeals to a considerable number of people. Each floor can assume a certain design element for differentiation but is still recognizably Big Apple, immersing patients and visitors in the atmosphere of a bustling city.

This unified design strategy also works to improve wayfinding schemes in hospitals, which can help patients find a person or location intuitively through the design’s common themes. An example of this in action would be a badge system, where patients and visitors are given badges when they are admitted on the first floor. Using the design theme’s iconography, finding rooms and people are simply a matter of matching their badge icons with the room or person sporting the same icon.

It’s easy to dismiss graphic design and overall interior aesthetic in healthcare spaces as simple gimmicks. But when it works to help patients and their families feel at ease during their stay, it’s worth every lick of paint and strip of vinyl.

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