It is still little known that scientifically supported colour, light and material advice can save costs in hospitals and homes. With a small additional investment, the quality of the patients’ stay and the working conditions of the staff are sustainably improved. This helps to reduce health care costs and operating expenses.
The different user groups that can be found in health facilities such as retirement and nursing homes or hospitals have different needs. The residents of an old people’s home, for example, spend a large part of their daily lives in its rooms. Their quality of life is closely related to the successful design of their home. Patients who suffer from an illness or the consequences of an accident usually only stay in hospital for a limited period of time. On the other hand, they often find themselves in a stressful life situation. Hospitals and homes are the working environment for doctors and caregivers.
Therefore, when designing health care facilities, it is important to think not only of functional and technical perfection but also of a professional colour and material concept that promotes the well-being of the persons to be cared for and at the same time offers the employees a working environment which is conducive to the body and psyche.
The scientifically supported colour and material advice is based on the needs of the human being. Every colour stimulus that is picked up from the outside triggers a subjective reaction in the inner world. Thus colour influences the cortical activation as well as functions of the vegetative nervous system and also triggers the release of hormones. For this reason, the correct and appropriate setting of colour stimuli must be taken into account when selecting colours. Too many colour stimuli can miss the goal of moderate stimulation just as much as a low-irritant environment.
In addition to these physiological and neuropsychological effects, the human colour and material consultation also includes the findings of colour psychology. This means that the emotional effect of colours, their symbolism and also their associative power are taken into account. The same applies to the synaesthetic effect of colours. Synaesthesia is the simultaneous perception of different sensations. Thus colours not only appeal to the sense of sight, but also excite the sense of touch, smell, taste or temperature through holistic references and compassion. People perceive certain colour nuances and -combinations, as warm or cold, hard or soft, sweet or sour, etc.
A successful interior and exterior design harmonises the needs of the users with the ideas of specialist planners and decision-makers. When designing health care facilities the correct weighting of user needs is particularly complex because different user groups, some with very different needs, use some rooms together, others exclusively. In addition to patients, nursing staff, doctors, relatives and visitors also spend a large part of their time in the rooms of hospitals and homes. When it comes to the user-oriented individual design of the various rooms, especially of large facilities, it is essential that this is done within the framework of an overarching concept. Because only a hospital or home designed as a whole conveys the harmony and security that positively stimulates the selfhealing powers and the quality of life of patients and residents.
What should be borne in mind when designing the individual rooms in a health facility?
Already the entrance hall should spread an inviting and friendly atmosphere. Security and warmth can be combined with a homely, representative room atmosphere. The reception area should correspond to the remaining appearance of the facility, not only with regard to the choice of colour, but above all also with regard to the high-quality design and room atmosphere.
The design of the patient rooms is central to the well-being of the patients in a hospital. Here people from different social backgrounds, ages and personal tastes spend different amounts of time depending on the length of stay. The severity of the illness or injury also varies. This raises different expectations of the hospital environment. Frequently occurring dysfunctions such as anxiety or insomnia can be counteracted with creative means. Doctors and psychologists today agree that a positive atmosphere in the hospital room promotes the healing process. To achieve this, the room must be optimistic, friendly and comfortable. The ceiling deserves attention because it forms a main field of vision for bedridden patients. It may be slightly coloured without disturbing the objective assessment of the patient’s skin colour through reflection.
Of course, the same applies to living spaces in retirement and nursing homes. As these form the centre of the elderly’s life, a homely and slightly stimulating atmosphere is particularly important here.
The design of corridors is important because they occupy a large total area and therefore convey a considerable part of the overall impression. If each department is assigned a different colour milieu, the corridor is perceived as part of the orientation system. The staff uses corridors as transport and connection routes and as work areas between the various departments. For hospital patients, they serve as ideal walking surfaces for movement. An interesting ambience in terms of colour and light supports the recovery process of the patients and the staff works more motivated, more willing to perform and more concentrated, so that symptoms of fatigue and the number of errors can be reduced.
In facilities for the care of the elderly, special attention must be paid to a good quality of stay in the corridors. Particularly where dementia patients are cared for, the colour consultant makes sure that he uses the right amount of colour stimuli in order to offer stimulation and variety to the elderly and to encourage them to move. The use of wild or monotonous colour combinations, could over- or underchallenge the residents and thus have a counterproductive effect. The choice of materials for the floors and the planning of the lighting are aimed at mirror-free running surfaces. This ensures optimum freedom of movement and prevents falls.
The cafeteria should also radiate a friendly and varied ambience. It is a central meeting point in health care facilities, where patients or residents meet their relatives and friends, and where employees are often to be found. If the cafeteria and adjoining common rooms of an old people’s home are attractively designed and designed in such a way that they are also suitable for readings, concerts or exhibitions, they are often booked by outside groups as venues, which brings life and variety into the house, facilitates encounters and promotes the quality of life of the residents.
In operating and treatment rooms, it is not only important to ensure that patients place their full trust in their medical skills and in the medical-technical equipment. Industrial psychology aspects must also be taken into account. In particular, the visual efforts of the surgical teams working intensively and over a long period of time must be taken into account. In order to prevent eye fatigue during operations, large differences in luminance should be avoided.
All in all, it is worth consulting a qualified colour consultant and designer when planning a new building or conversion, but also before the renovation of health facilities. The quality of the caregiver’s stay will be improved and they will be encouraged to engage in more physical and mental activity. This can also have a positive financial impact, as less medication may have to be used under certain circumstances and the number of accidents can be reduced through optimised fall prevention. By making the design appealing to the patient, the recovery process can be supported and the length of stay of hospital patients can be shortened. In addition, the job satisfaction of the employees increases, which reduces the fluctuation rate. The small investment in a well thought-out colour and material concept in relation to the total construction costs of homes and hospitals considerably increases the utility value of the project and thus pays off several times over.
Author: Martin Tanner
Published in: hospital and home, February 2009