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Impact of Biophilic Design on Medical Facilities

11 Dec 2017

Recently, medical journals and the media have focused much talk on the topic of ‘earthing.’ In short, this refers to the idea of connecting with nature via direct physical contact – whether that be bare feet or hands. Biophilia is the result of this practice, a term that notes the benefits humans derive from connecting with the natural environment.

Plant Walls
Biophilic design is being implemented in workspaces and commercial centers across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and beyond at increasing rates. Medical centers are among the locations seeing the most benefit from the practice. In high-stress locations such as hospitals, everyone from staff and doctors to patients and visiting family members appreciate the calming effects of natural plants. But is there actually anything scientific to this? Let’s take a look at the direct impact of biophilic design on medical facilities.

In this article, you will learn:
  • Live and artificial plants create a calming effect in high-intensity medical facilities.
  • Biophilic design can be incorporate inside and outside, or even both!
  • Hospitals around the world are realizing the benefits of natural healing centers, particularly for long term patients.
  • Biophilia is an investment that never steps returning benefits.

Living green walls and live emotions: how the two interact

Living-Green-Walls
The first thing many people notice when surrounded by biophilic design is its calming effect. Plants have been shown to soothe the mind and help humans relax, something many find it hard to do in places such as hospitals.

According to medical studies, plants and natural scenery in hospitals helps patients heal faster. This is a striking fact for followers of western medicine, with so much focus being put on pharmaceuticals and other synthetic treatments. Interior LandscapeBut when one really stops to think about it, it makes perfect sense: the body functions better when it isn’t overly stressed. The immune system heals the body quicker, returning the favor to the subconscious, and the circle continues to repeat. In fact, patients given natural plants and setting such as vertical gardens, only spend an average of 7.96 days in the hospital. Contrast this with those in more sterile settings who spent an average of 8.71 days in the hospital.

Scientific American published findings showing that only three to five minutes of looking at natural settings such as plants, rivers, or other greenery helps soothe the mind. Anger and stress are reduced and patients are able to make their mental approach work for them instead of against them.

There’s even more good news: the same article noted that these benefits can stem from artificial plants as well, which in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi is incredibly important. Paintings, fake office plants, and other imagery that conjures thoughts of nature have a similar impact as living walls.

Biophilic design and medical staff

The impacts stretch beyond patients themselves. Employees, particularly those in fast-paced and intense environments, are more productive when surrounded by live plants. They’re able to disconnect from the computer screen, uptight patients and family, and everything else when they go on break by just sitting in a natural setting.
Including office plants and living green walls, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi especially, creates a peaceful feeling at work. You know what they say – those that love their job do it well, and stick around for the long haul.

How to incorporate live plants into your medical facility

Whether for a new medical facility being built, or a redesign of an existing center, biophilic design for medical centers follows three basic principles:
  • Natural lighting. It’s hard to feel like you’re in the mountains or walking along a riverbank while being struck from all sides by fluorescent lighting. Soft, natural lighting is a key element in optimising the calming effects of live plants. Place lighting in strategic areas and don’t make rooms overly-bright when they don’t need to be.
  • Patient and staff access. Having living green walls and other plant life in break rooms, common areas, and hallways provides easy access for both patients and staff. We also recommend using this technique in lounge areas and waiting rooms, as we all know how stressed family members can be while visiting a loved one. Make access to the natural settings easy, and build them into the overall flow of the architecture.
  • Consider the views. For patients unable to leave their bed or room, build in natural views that they can enjoy in private. No one wants to sit and stare at a blank wall or out a window onto a parking lot all day. Office plants, small green walls, and even large paintings of natural settings will have an immediate impact on the patient’s stress levels.

Case Study: Horatio's Garden

One charitable organisation in the UK has become a centerpiece for biophilic design in medical centers. Horatio’s Garden applies the concept of using biophilia in medical facilities to provide sanctuaries for those stuck inside the ward for long periods of time.
Horatio's Garden                                                    Photo Credit: Horatio's Garden

The garden is named after a hospital volunteer named Horatio, who had the idea that patients of the hospital should be able to go outside and heal while staying at the hospital. Both patients who are mobile and immobile can visit the garden, as it is accessible by wheelchair. It’s become a popular attraction, with many hospital patients visiting almost on a daily basis.

Around the world, other hospitals are following suit. In the US, the Arizona Cancer Center has installed a large outdoor garden and walkway accessible to patients.

The way forward

Biophilic design wasn’t always thought of as a legitimate, medically beneficial practice. But the number of studies now available – and many more sure to come – have indicated that there really is something to nature and health. As it grows in popularity, biophilia is readily available to more people, business, and medical centers in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and around the world. The kicker on this whole concept is that nature provides the ultimate return on investment because it never stops giving back. Everyone who walks into the doors of a medical center will appreciate the setting. When that happens, word of mouth flows as smoothly as good health.
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