As part of operational excellence, hospital administrators should leverage their physical space to drive positive outcomes for patients, enhance the overall patient experience, and attract/retain productive staff.
A key factor influencing all three of those outcomes is daylight and views. When the sun hits our eye every morning, it resets our circadian rhythms — the biological process that governs our sleep cycles. A lack of consistent exposure to daylight can cause what Dr. Mariana Figueiro, Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at Mount Sinai, describes as circadian disruption.
“Circadian disruption has been associated with a series of maladies, from sleep disturbances to poor performance, all the way to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer,” she said. “Maintaining that synchrony is very important. Being exposed to that daylight is very important.”
On this episode of The PULSE by HealthSpaces, Dr. Figueiro presented her new research into the impact of dynamic smart window technology on human sleep cycles. She was joined by Dr. Usha Satish, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at SUNY Upstate Medical University; and Dr. Anjali Joseph, Director of the Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing at Clemson University.
Each presenter brought groundbreaking new findings that show why we need to design spaces that let the sunshine in — for the good of our patients, our workers, and ourselves.
Brighter Days Make for Better Nights
Healthcare professionals are all too familiar with the cascading stresses of circadian disruption, which can have devastating long-term effects in shift workers. The key to avoiding it? Natural daylight.
In a recently published study, Dr. Figueiro found that when her subjects slept beside windows with the blinds down, they fell asleep 22 minutes later and slept 16 minutes less than when they slept beside View smart windows that exposed them to controlled levels of natural light each morning.
Subjects who slept beside the smart windows even enjoyed higher energy and vitality in the mornings, which conveniently declined as they approached bedtime. When subjects slept beside regular windows with the blinds drawn, they experienced the inverse: fogginess in the morning and alertness at bedtime.
Getting a bit more granular, Dr. Figueiro explained that subjects exposed to View smart windows experienced a consistent onset of melatonin, a hormone produced at night that lets the body know its bedtime. By contrast, the subjects exposed to regular windows experienced a delayed melatonin onset, keeping them awake longer. ”It shows a complete delay in all the physiological responses because they did not get that morning light," she said.
Drawing on her research, she suggested that hospitals help promote patient and worker well-being by modulating the amount of light in their spaces, with as much bright (and natural) light as possible during the day, and dimmer lighting at night.
With Great Daylight Comes Great Productivity
Smart windows can do much more than promote energy and vitality. In a study designed similarly to Dr. Figueiro’s, Dr. Satish placed one set of knowledge workers in an office with View smart windows, and another in an office with regular glass windows and blinds. She found that over the course of one week, the workers exposed to smart windows experienced a 42 percent increase in productivity and slept for 37 minutes longer each night.
“This is attractive not just to us as human beings, to produce better work and have better well-being, but it's also attractive to organizations looking to make better architectural spaces and better working conditions for people,” she said.
In another study focusing specifically on healthcare workers, Dr. Satish found that increased exposure to daylight — via View smart windows — was positively correlated with patient outcomes, error rates, communication, information processing, focus, productivity, and follow-through, while mitigating burnout and depersonalization.
“I think we need to encourage the healthcare industry to focus on well-being,” she said. “Daylight seems to be one easy way of getting a little bit more wellness than we experience.”
Clear Windows, Happy Patients
Dr. Joseph’s studies into the impact of daylight on patient experiences found that it’s not just the window that matters, but what’s outside. Patients with windows in their rooms were more likely to give higher ratings to their hospitals, the quality of care they received, and the rooms they were in; if their windows offered a view of some natural setting, they were more likely to give those things even higher ratings.
She recommended hospitals put these lessons into practice by designing rooms with large windows — such as View smart windows that eliminate the need for blinds — at the patient’s eye level, with clear views of green spaces whenever possible.
"Hospitals should think about daylight and views as an important part of their quality improvement agenda," she concluded.
To watch a full recording of the webinar click here.
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