Designing pediatric units for healing

Could it be that neuroscientists and architectural design firms are finally working together to improve img_742998_1_0child-hospitalmedical staff performance and the healing of the patients? Those three ideas of health, healing and environmental impact is an old concept in holistic medicine, but finally provable to western neuroscientists. All can now begin to benefit.

A U.S. architectural firm has announced plans to work with neuroscientists to identify healthcare facility designs that promote performance and healing.

HMC Architects of Ontario, Calif., says it will work with a team of neuroscientists from the University of California-San Diego, citing recent studies showing building design, color and lighting affect patient health.

“Neuroscience provides a means for us to measure how the brain, body and building interact,” said Eve Edelstein, a UCSD neurophysiologist. “Neuroscience gives us the tools to understand how the engagement of our senses in architectural space influences our emotions, behavior and health itself.”

To measure brain responses to simulated building designs, Edelstein is using a virtual reality device called the StarCave, developed by UCSD, and resembling a small Imax theater.

“We’ve synchronized the technology in the cave so that we can record a person’s brain waves at the same time they’re moving about in a simulated architectural environment,” Edelstein said. “So with this technology, we can test out architectural designs without having to build them. We can test which features work and which features don’t work by measuring the influence of architectural features on mental and physical function.”

Recently a scientific review of 320 evidence-based design studies in the academic literature that apply to the field of pediatrics, concluded that the

physical environment of health care settings affects the clinical, physiological, psychosocial and safety outcomes among child patients and families.

The need to

minimizing or eliminating the harmful effects of such environmental factors as loud noise, high light levels and infectious pathogens should be the goal of children’s hospitals and other types of hospitals providing pediatric services. In particular, the neonatal intensive care unit has been the focus of many interventions proven effective in improving infant health outcomes.
Examples of proven low cost design recommendations implementable at any time are:

– Hand washing dispensers at each bedside and in all high patient volume areas
– Incubator noise reduction measures (earmuffs, sound absorbing panels) in the NICU
– Circadian (cycled) lighting in the NICU
– Artwork and virtual reality images to provide positive distractions

Examples of proven moderate to high cost design interventions implementable during renovation or new construction include:

– Single family patient rooms
– Adequate space for families to stay overnight in patient rooms
– Accessible indoor or outdoor gardens
– Visual access and accessibility to patients (e.g. through decentralized nurses’ stations)
– HEPA filtration for immune compromised patients

“The exciting news is that well designed hospitals based on evidence can actually increase patient safety and quality, reduce anxiety and stress for child patients and their families and also improve working conditions for hospital staff,” said Lawrence McAndrews, president and CEO of NACHRI.

“Bottom line is this report challenges children’s hospitals and adult hospitals that serve children to evaluate their built spaces and implement design interventions that can help their pediatric patients heal.”

1. Neuroscientists to help design hospitals – Staff Writers San Diego (UPI) Nov 13, 2008
http://www.interndaily.com/reports/Neuroscientists_to_help_design_hospitals_999.html

2. Hospital Design Can Heal According to First Comprehensive Report on Impact of Physical Environment on Child Patients Levent OZLER May 10, 2008  http://www.dexigner.com/design_news/hospital-design-can-heal-according-to-first-comprehensive-report.html

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