Designed For Healing: Psychology and the Environment

Have you ever wondered how the environment affects you? Ever wondered why we react positively to a beautiful space? Today we attempt to clarify the connection between the environment and psychology with proof.

The connection between patient psychology factors and environmental design is the core basis for Medical Interior Design. What tangible connections does design address and what strategies create an effective healing space? We dived into that in our last Instagram Live conversation which you can watch here with Dr. Hessam Ghamari – a researcher and consultant in healthcare interior design shared his expertise on the intersections of Psychology and Environment, how they affect each other and what tangible design strategies can be done to create an effective healing space. Today, we will be sharing with you some of the key takeaways from that discussion.

  1. Evidence-Based Design

    Dr. Ghamari stresses the importance of evidence –based design to make smarter decisions for a project. Basing decisions on the built environment on credible research to reach the best patient outcomes can bring about revolutionary design solutions that we have seen becoming the new normal over time. Increased private rooms, decentralized nurses’ stations, and a shift to patient-centered, family-centered care philosophies are some of these innovations that shape the trajectories of healthcare design.

    He cites the research of Dr. Roger Ulrich which cited significant patient improvement just by having better window views from patients recovering from surgery. A view to a park than a busy city street can have far-reaching consequences like faster recovery, less pain, and less medications. Such dramatic relationship between patient wellness and the designed environment puts a significant responsibility on designers to be more mindful of their choices.

  2. Natural vs Neutral

    Although it may seem distant, images that we find ourselves putting in our Medical spaces can have an impact on a patient’s experience. Another research Dr. Ghamari shares is the patient response to nature-based versus neutral images captured in the subject’s brain’s function it triggers. The results affirms a positive result for nature-based images as it activates the part of the brain concerned with dreams while the neutral image stimulates the part of the brain responsible for hallucinations. Dreams like those found in a good night’s sleep is valuable especially for recovering patients that require as plenty of rest as they can manage. The more restful sleep a patient can have may lead to less pain and medication.

  3. Design for Empathy

    Our collective experience in SIMOUR ® makes us take on different approaches for every kind of project we handle. Designing for a GP or a dental office with multiple operatories, or a plastic surgery clinic will require different design approaches. Putting ourselves in the patient’s shoes gives us insights on what exactly to design for. It allows us to pivot our design strategies based on what triggers a patient’s fear or what needs to be supported. It cannot be one-size fits all. Different methods for different settings, and it is our duty to investigate and find the proper methodology.

  4. Color Contrast

    Dr. Ghamari is quick to be cautious about using color without knowing its full impact. His work in hospitals involves the effective use of color to achieve maximum effect and he advises to focus on establishing enough contrast in a space to highlight any elements of color, which was helpful in wayfinding applications (see more below). Contrast also serves to widen the appreciation of the space and how each element relates to each other.

  5. Wayfinding

    Wayfinding has two aspects that will affect the patient experience as Dr. Ghamari explains. The first is the visual environmental factors that impact these directional systems and second is the deeper spatial appreciation that it strives to make sense of. Color and contrast, lighting, the quality of the materials and the kind of information it conveys are all factors that affect the delivery of wayfinding. Working hard to make sure they all work together in harmony enables patients to overcome uncertainty and navigate spaces easily and correctly.

    Digging even deeper, wayfinding reveals the things that cannot be perceived instantly like spatial arrangements that are largely kept hidden by walls. Wayfinding becomes an exercise that will be useful even in the early stages of planning or even facilities that are seeking to do some renovations. It forces the issue of patient navigation and flow into the process so that the layout becomes more apparent and intuitive. Space syntax theories usually applied in broader contexts like cities are helpful exercises in making complex spaces like healthcare facilities be more navigable.

    We are all guilty of oversimplifying wayfinding systems as merely directional signages but as Dr. Ghamari explains, wayfinding as a discipline has far reaching implications in how people perceive and understand spaces. Wayfinding as a cognitive exercise not only seeks to give information we need to get us to our destinations it also becomes a practical exercise that makes spaces that flow better.

  6. Lighting matters

    Lighting controls human behavior much like how plants gravitate towards the light.

    Whether it is bringing in natural daylight or correctly specifying the right color temperature, Dr. Ghamari and I both agree that lighting has an impact and if done right can really improve the patient experience. Projects at SIMOUR® have specified lamps with a color temperature of 3500 Kelvins which in our experience has the best color rendition without being too “warm” or “cool”. Harmonizing daylight and artificial light can also affect the Circadian rhythm of patients’ bodies so they can be more receptive to rest and sleep.

    And on that topic of lighting and the context of the COVID-19 response, UV Lighting is a viable technology that can really improve patient safety, security and well-being. A safe pathogen-free environment will not just be an innovation but a reasonable expectation in what will be the new normal.

You can watch the entire clip of the conversation here. Once again, we would like to thank Dr. Hessam Ghamari for the time he shared with us and meaningful insights on how the environment can create wellness and healing for its patients. Follow us on Instagram, @simourdesign to get updated for more of these online conversations with people who matter we will be doing in the future, some inspiration, and other content on how to create that perfect Medical space for you.

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Our primary motivation is to heal the world through our designs. We know environments have an immense impact on our well-being. Our goal is to share knowledge and understanding of how interior design impacts how we feel.

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