The Patient or the Caregiver? Part 2: Designing for the Caregiver | Environmental Quality I By: Kelly Hiskey, Associate AIA, ASHE
Patients are to healthcare facilities like water is to fish. The latter couldn’t exist without the former. So it’s no surprise that a designer’s first inclination is to focus on designing for the experience of the patient. Through the principals of patient-centered care, designers create environments that encourage healing, empower patients and mitigate stress. However, if the basic goal of any healthcare facility is to aid in a quick and full recovery of its patients, shouldn’t an equal focus be placed on the individuals tasked with providing this care? Part II of this series will focus on how architecturally related environmental qualities can reduce stress and strain and aid in the caregivers ability to efficiently, effectively and consistently perform their daily tasks.
Designing for the Caregiver | Environmental Quality
During the day, the lighting levels among patient rooms, corridors and support spaces are relatively consistent. However, at night, when patients are sleeping, strain is put on the caregivers eyes as they go from the low-lit patient rooms to the brightly lit corridor and support spaces. Narrowing the gap in lighting levels at night (lowering the lighting level of the corridor directly outside patient rooms) would help reduce eye strain and therefore help reduce error.
Mitigating extraneous noise is a great way to reduce patient and caregiver stress. Hospitals are inevitably filled with noise; the more noise there is the more difficult and frustrating communication becomes among patients, family members, staff and colleagues. Providing materials to reduce noise levels can greatly reduce stress and improve communication. Products such as acoustical wood or metal ceilings and/or wall panels with a fiberglass infill, flooring with an acoustical backing (if it’s a hard surface), carpet, cotton fiber wall panels wrapped in an impervious film are just a few materials to consider when looking at noise reduction. Providing materials with sound absorption properties on more than one surface (especially parallel surfaces) will provide greater sound absorption than a single surface.
Choosing materials that provide additional comfort can help reduce the stress and strain on caregivers who work long hours doing a lot of physical labor. Rubber is a great flooring option because it’s low maintenance (no need to wax), bacteria and stain resistant, can withstand heavy traffic (both people and equipment), while still providing a balance between support and cushion for caregivers who are on their feet for an average of 12-hour shifts. Sheet vinyl is also making a grand appearance with products that incorporate silver nanotechnology (antimicrobial), cushioned padding, never wax finishes, and wood-look patterns.
Minimizing the transfer of infection is a huge focus in the healthcare industry. Silver oxide, titanium dioxide and chlorine are nanotechnologies that can be embedded in materials and finishes to provide an anti-microbial surface. This technology can be used in flooring, fabrics, and “frequently touched” surfaces. Technologies surrounding infection control are continuing to develop and progress and will inevitably aid in the launch of new products.