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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Patients like me are part of the problem: Hospital aesthetics

Virginia Postrel's critique of hospital aesthetics:
One of the bleakest rooms at the UCLA Medical Plaza, where I spend my time [as a breast cancer patient], is a waiting room in the imaging center. Small and beige, it epitomizes aesthetic neglect, with stained chairs, mismatched tiles, and tattered copies of US News and World Report. The only wall art is a drug-company poster on myocardial perfusion imaging – just the thing to comfort anxious patients.

Patients like me are part of the problem. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't shop around for the most attractive chemotherapy clinic. I went to the best oncologist I could find and got the room that came with him. "Most people would take the most competent clinicians even if they were in the worst possible environment," says Jain Malkin, a San Diego-based interior designer and author of several reference books on healthcare design.

But why assume good medicine must come with bad design? "Evidence-based design" is the great hope of professionals who want to upgrade the look and feel of medical centers. A seminal article by Roger Ulrich described the health outcomes of patients in different kinds of hospital rooms. Ulrich looked at patients recovering from gallbladder surgery. He matched the patients to control for factors that might affect the speed of their recovery, like age and obesity. Patients with a view of a grove of trees had shorter hospital stays and required significantly less expensive pain medication than patients whose rooms only gave them a view of a brick wall. Other studies have found similar positive effects from sunny hospital rooms, and rooms with images of nature on the walls.

Advice to family members of hospital patients: Bring soothing pictures and plants to the hospital room.

Browse for similar stories in our index at the very bottom of this page.

Thanks to Virginia Postrel for the source story in the April issue of the Atlantic Magazine.

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