Hospitals and healthcare facilities are built to sustain and improve human health and wellness. But are they designed with this purpose?

Wellness-based design is gaining traction, and its greatest impact can be felt within healthcare facilities. Healthy design features – natural lighting, improved air quality, biophilic elements, views of nature, non-toxic building materials, and space intended for movement – are no-brainers to incorporate in facilities intended to enhance human health.

High performing facilities are healthy facilities

Studies prove wellness-design features in hospitals are linked to:

  • Higher patient satisfaction
  • Enhanced healing and health outcomes
  • Shorter patient stays
  • Reduced hospital staff turnover
  • Enhanced staff concentration
  • Improved staff longevity

Optimal indoor air quality (IAQ) is critical to protect vulnerable patients in hospitals. Recent estimates place the direct health care costs of poor IAQ in the United States at $30 billion, with sick leave and productivity losses adding another almost $100 billion annually. Effective approaches to air quality control rely on green, toxic-free building materials, and hygienic, energy-efficient HVAC and air treatment practices.

We’ve talked about the benefits of natural lighting before, which is especially significant in hospitals. In an often chaotic and stressful indoor setting, natural light in hospitals is proven to accelerate patient recovery, decrease pain and stress levels, and keep staff alert and productive.

In 1996, Beauchemin and Hays published an article in the Journal of Affective Disorders documenting that exposure to natural light can actually shorten the length of stay for depressed patients in hospitals. In the study, “light therapy” through access to natural lighting helped reduce patient depression and seasonal affective disorder. Another study proved that natural light reduces agitation, aggression, stress, and pain within Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. These early studies inspired architects like HOK to rethink hospital design and catapulted future wellness-focused design considerations.

In 2012, The University Medical Center of Princeton opened a new $523 million, 636,000-square-foot hospital, incorporating wellness design elements of a carefully tested, mock patient room.

Hospitals - Princeton
Source: Princeton

Once patients were moved into the new wellness-oriented rooms, months of testing showed:

  • Patients asked for 30 percent less pain medication
  • Patient satisfaction soared to the 99th percentile, up from the 61st percentile
  • Recovery and rehabilitation times decreased
  • Meal ratings improved (though meals remained the same)
  • Infection and accidents rates decreased

The physical design of healthcare environments yields financial benefits as well. Evidence suggests that increased patient satisfaction lends to lower costs in the healthcare industry. While quantifying the exact financial gain of the hospital and savings of each patient is difficult, it’s clear that wellness-based design improves lives and long-term outcomes.

Does LEED lead to wellness?

The Inova Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Falls Church, VA recently renovated with a 665,000-square-foot campus expansion purposefully aligned to patient health through sustainable building practices. Paladino partnered with architect Wilmot Sanz to manage the LEED Silver certification for the project, ensuring a path-forward that held patient health paramount.

Hospitals - Inova
Source: HFM Magazine

LEED credits were specifically chosen to achieve optimal air quality and natural light to contribute to the health and wellness of patients, visitors, and staff. Building materials with low or no toxicity were used to support the recovery of the sensitive patient population served at the facility.

Hospitals - Inova

“The health and wellness of our patients is everything,” said Seema Wadhwa, assistant vice president, sustainability and wellness of Inova. “When we expanded, we made sure every decision during construction would be a reflection of health and would create a world class environment for patient care. We chose low-emitting materials such as paints and adhesives, so we can all breathe easy and feel healthier in the space.”

Committing to healthy, sustainability buildings is a natural progression for Inova’s environmental leadership, and is aligned to its commitment to patient health.

Green building improves patient outcomes

High performing facilities are healthier. The next wave of sustainable buildings prioritizes wellness, and facilities like hospitals are being designed to sustain and improve our health. We look forward to further data and advancements in wellness-based design.

Susie Westrup Paladino and Company

Susie Westrup, LEED AP BD+C, is a manager at Paladino and Company.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment