Nature's Influence in Healthcare
We see nature everywhere: It helps us thrive and brings us joy. You’ve heard about having a green thumb – or lack thereof – and the healing properties of plants. But why are they so limited, or in some cases completely eliminated, in environments where we heal or work? Humans have an innate desire to be connected with nature. Numerous studies have shown that the human preference is for the natural, rather than built, environment¹. Here are four innovative benefits that bringing in an influence of nature can provide in a healthcare setting.
- Help Reduce Stress and Increase Recovery
One of the innate benefits of plants is that they are able to reduce stress in people - and have been shown to increase parasympathetic activity including relaxation and blocking negative emotions and thoughts. There are always the standard concerns of plants being in healthcare environments as a means of spreading infection and germs but limiting these plants and green spaces to lobbies, waiting areas and staff break areas can change a space in a big way.
Exposure to plants not only can lead to a reduction in stress for patients but also for staff in the healthcare system. Being exposed to these window views and greenspaces have been related to several well-being outcomes like a lower level of anxiety, physiological arousal and an overall better job satisfaction².
- Help Increase Productivity
Natural elements in a workplace help increase the productivity of staff by over 15% when the environments were previously ‘lean’ with only a handful of houseplants³. Working in an environment that engages you psychologically with nature makes the workplace a healthier, happier and more efficient space. Not only do these natural elements increase happiness and productivity, but exposure to the natural world has also been shown to have revitalizing effects⁴.
- Clean the Air
One of the most beautiful aspects of plants is that they are a natural purifier for the oxygen we breathe. As human beings we need oxygen to breathe but once we use the oxygen we exhale a gas that we do not need - carbon dioxide that the plants absorb and use to create energy. A NASA scientist in the 1980s discovered that plants were able to remove chemicals from the air making it cleaner for us to breathe⁵. The idea of more purified oxygen is something that is attractive for healthcare environments due to the elimination of environmental impurities.
- Help Reduce Noise Levels
With all of the HIPAA laws in healthcare environments, sound and noise transfer is a huge concern making acoustics and creative solutions an extremely high priority. Through the ability of plants to absorb sounds rather than insulating against noise pollution, they help to reduce the distracting noises such as background noise and chatter. Positioning larger plants strategically in acoustically challenging public locations throughout the healthcare system can provide optimal benefits to the acoustic environment.
So now you know what the benefits are - how can we incorporate them in a safe and plausible way? There are ways to incorporate plants in situations where there is a new building being constructed as well as an already existing facility.
For new facilities, think about designing the building to have inpatient rooms facing a centralized garden courtyard with frosted glass on the lower half of the glass to maintain privacy in the room while bringing nature into the room. Another design strategy can also be to imitate what actually happens in nature in the design of the space by incorporating natural materials into the flooring that looks like rocks and water and ceilings that are painted a natural sky color and natural looking light to replicate the natural sky.
For existing facilities, 3D natural artwork can be incorporated that feels more engaging than just images on a wall. Faux terrariums are another option for including natural elements in sensitive patient care environments. Rock cairns and naturalistic furniture can be added in healthcare settings to give a naturalistic feel in common spaces and public areas.
Whatever path the project is on - there is always a way to infuse nature into the space creating a calming and rejuvenating environment.
¹The role of nature in the context of the workplace. Landscape and Urban Planning, 1993.
²Science Direct: Landscape and Urban Planning, 2017
³University of Exeter, 2014
⁴Science Direct: Landscape and Urban Planning, 2017
⁵Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, 1989
Sarah is an integral member of the interior design team at M+A. Dedicated to improving healthcare and senior living environments, she is passionate about creating a cohesive design for the end-users. When she isn't busy planning for her upcoming wedding, Sarah enjoys walking her dog and visiting different baseball stadiums around the country.