The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. What’s remarkable about this definition is that it does not include “curing” disease but encompasses well-being in body, mind and spirit.
While healthcare has primarily focused on fixing the body, there is growing recognition that our healthcare system could do more by promoting overall wellness, which requires expanding the focus. Evidence-based design research (EBD) has demonstrated the power of environmental design to support improved patient, family and staff outcomes and to avoid harm in healthcare settings. This concept piqued the interest of Trinity Health leaders, so they visited other hospitals across the country to learn more about how new designs could be implemented in the new campus to achieve better outcomes.
Healing is a very personal process that is heavily influenced by individual characteristics. The environment cannot cause healing to occur but can facilitate behaviors and emotions that support health, such as happiness, joy and relaxation. A healing environment is one that has a nurturing and therapeutic effect. Studies show that, through EBD, well designed healing environments make hospitals less stressful and promote faster healing for patients and improve well-being for their families, as well as create a pleasant, comfortable and safe work environment for staff.
What constitutes a healing environment?
Research shows one of the main concerns of patients is avoiding being subjected to human errors by staff and medical professionals in a hospital. Some of these can be addressed by providing identical rooms and adequate lighting.
Trinity’s new hospital will feature 148 private patient rooms, all same-sided, which means that every room is entered on the righthand side of the patient. Rooms are comfortably sized and have a private, ADA accessible bathroom; all equipment is identically located for ease and efficiency. The standardization of patient rooms and equipment makes routine tasks simpler and decreases errors by staff. When the facility has identical rooms, the nursing staff and care team encounters the same distribution, layout and lighting in every room.
“We built mock-up patient rooms then brought in staff to provide input on placement and location of key items so changes could be made before final construction. There were several suggestions that improved the functionality of the rooms, such as moving medical gas hookups for better patient access and relocating medical equipment booms from the head of the bed to the foot of the bed,” said Dave Kohlman, vice president of Facilities. “The result of our efforts is a room that’s well thought out and reflects a strategy centered around patient care,” he added.
Another feature in patient rooms that improves safety is a two-toned floor. One color indicates the “caregiver zone,” the second color: the “family zone.” Establishing distinct patient access zones allows for easier provider access, enhanced safety—especially in critical moments—and better patient care.
Additional healing design elements include soothing colors, natural light, exposure to nature, such as outside views, or art with a nature theme. The paint color in the patient rooms was chosen specifically for its subdued and soothing effect; angled walls direct one’s visual attention across to the window, which invites sunlight in and provides natural light and exposure to North Dakota’s kaleidoscope of seasonal colors and (sometimes) unpredictable weather. Scientific literature shows that patients with a view of nature had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer potent pain drugs and received more favorable comments about their condition in nurses’ notes than patients in similar rooms with a window facing a brick building.
Angled walls also provide wider corners, which are less difficult to clean than tight corners. Studies show single bed rooms with good air quality (from cleanliness and wider space) reduce infection incidence and reduce mortality.
Social needs in a hospital setting reflect patient behavior in relation to the support they receive from relationships. COVID-19 taught us many things, one of which was the unbearable loneliness and mental strife of experiencing illness without the support of loved ones nearby. The lack of social support negatively affected all actors in the drama: patients, family and staff. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. To address social support in healing, patient rooms will include seating that can be arranged for visits from family or friends.
In its simplest form, the definition of a trinity is a set of three. An example could be a holy trinity –Father, Son and Holy Spirit – or one that reflects current opinions of health and well-being: body, mind and spirit. In addition to new technology and innovative healthcare, the new Trinity Hospital is designed to include elements to create surround- ings that help calm patients and strengthen their ability to cope and recover.
Amen to that.