Love, Medicine and Better Hospital Design

During my most recent stay in the hospital – 8 1/2 years ago in Norwalk, to be exact – the best design feature of my room was a rainbow that my then-6-year-old-daughter made and which my wife taped to the wall. I learned a couple of weeks later, while reading Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles, that the rainbow is a symbol of hope, and I still have two rainbows that Elie made me back then.

I also read in Siegel’s book (other than Walden, it's the only self-help book I've every read) that patients in hospital rooms with a view of the natural world have better medical outcomes than those who don’t. And so I was interested to read this article in the Atlantic about the importance of good-design in hospitals, and how hospitals tend to pay so little attention to it:

Consider diagnostic imaging departments. MRIs and CT scans can frighten many patients, and research shows that simple elements such as nature photos can ease their stress. Yet the typical scanner room still looks “as if it’s a workshop for cars,” says Malkin, with bare walls and big machines. One of the bleakest rooms at the UCLA Medical Plaza, where I spend my time, is a waiting room in the imaging center. Small and beige, it epitomizes aesthetic neglect, with stained chairs, mismatched tiles, and tattered copies of U.S. News & World Report. The only wall art is a drug-company poster on myocardial perfusion imaging—just the thing to comfort anxious patients.

The big exception, author Virginia Postrel points out, is maternity wards, where hospitals have been forced by competition to provide more home-like settings for families about to give birth. If patients in other wings and wards demanded it, hospitals would improve those places too.

I was pleased by the care at Norwalk Hospital. Nevertheless I hope not to go back. But if I do, I hope they’ve updated the place, with some thought to how to make the rooms more pleasant. They don’t have to be modern, just the result of modern-thinking.

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