How ‘healing architecture’ can improve outcomes for patients and staff in medical facilities

by Sam McLeod
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healing architecture

Good design is important in all facets of life – and healthcare is no exception. Gone are the days of stuffy clinical settings. There is a growing body of research demonstrating that the physical setting of healthcare facilities significantly impacts patient outcomes, as well as staff productivity.

What is ‘healing architecture’?

The term ‘healing architecture’ describes a holistic approach that takes into consideration interior and building design when creating spaces for patients and residents. It aims to optimise healing and recovery.

The current gold standard in healthcare design is an evidence-based methodology that puts patients at the centre of the design process, and is mindful of how they respond to their physical environment.

A well-designed medical environment also improves patient recovery by allowing medical professionals to make better decisions and raise the standard of care.

Cafeteria

Implementing a well-designed environment

Effective building design must take into account both the needs of patients, staff and visitors, as well as the complex set of regulations, codes and standards it must adhere to.

CSR Gyprock category manager Peter Tollens has outlined key considerations for designing modern healthcare environments. These underscore the need to review building materials and plans at every stage of the process to promote patient recovery.

Indoor air quality

Air quality is one environmental factor essential to health and wellbeing. In healthcare facilities, particle boards, carpets, and other building materials release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, according to Tollens. These can be a danger to patients by affecting their already weakened immune systems. They can also affect healthcare professionals, leaving them with headaches, fatigue, dryness, and eye and skin irritation.

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Green Star Rating Tools encourage product suppliers, designers, and specifiers to use certified low VOC-emitting materials and finishes to minimise these harmful effects.

Hospital rooms

Designing for fire safety

The large, expansive designs of healthcare buildings, which are frequented by people with varying degrees of mobility, require that they be designed with fire safety front of mind.

Passive fire protection should be built into the structure of healthcare buildings so that any potential fires can be contained to manageable compartments, preventing their spread.

Durability of walls and ceilings

Hospitals are also high-traffic areas subject to heavy use. This usage, along with the frequent movement of mobile equipment in corridors, can produce severe internal damage to walls.

Dents, tears and cracks in walls and ceilings can harbour bacteria, which can facilitate the spread of disease. Moreover, this accumulated damage can add to maintenance and cleaning costs.

One way for designers to curb this damage and associated costs is to use impact-resistant wall sheets or panel protection systems. 

Reception stairwell

Acoustic comfort

The acoustic performance of walls and ceilings affects patients, staff and visitors. For patients, excessive noise exposure can affect a variety of physiological and psychological processes including speech processing and sleep quality, adversely impacting their recovery. 

For healthcare staff, a poor acoustic environment can cause increased levels of stress and fatigue, poor job performance, hearing damage from loud noises, general annoyance and a higher rate of job burnout.

Thus, acoustic performance of walls and ceilings should be considered in the early stages of designing healthcare facilities.

Sustainability concerns

The choice of raw materials does more than impact the health of its occupants; it also affects the surrounding environment. Tollens says several factors should be considered when assessing the sustainability of building products. Their lifespan is one, followed by embodied emissions, life cycle energy consumption, resource use and recycling potential. 

Tollens offers plasterboard as an example of a sustainable material. In addition to its lightweight design lowering transportation expenses and emissions, the majority of it is recyclable after use.

For more information, Gyprock’s Whitepaper can be viewed here.

Read about how to design spaces that prioritise neurodiverse experiences.

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