“The seminal study on the subject was published in 1984 — that's right, 30 years ago — in Science. Roger S. Ulrich, now an architecture professor at the Center for Healthcare Building Research at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden after many years at Texas A&M University, compared two groups of patients recovering from gallbladder surgery in the same hospital, matching patients for characteristics such as age and obesity that might affect their recovery.
One group looked out on some trees while the other faced a brick wall; their rooms were otherwise almost the same. Patients with a view of the trees required significantly less high-powered pain medication and left the hospital earlier, after 7.96 days versus 8.70.
Thirty years of follow-up research later, and it's still news when someone designs a hospital room with a view.
The problem is not a lack of knowledge or, as Kimmelman suggests, neglect by "front-rank architects." There are specialized architects and interior designers who have spent decades studying how to improve health-care environments. There are articles in peer-reviewed journals — even an "Evidence-Based Design Journal Club" to discuss new articles — and annual conferences. In other words, there's plenty of information on how to make hospital-design better.
The real problem is a lack of incentives and feedback. New hospitals that hire fancy architects tend to lavish money on public areas — the places donors see — and treat hidden departments, such as the imaging suites, as purely functional. Even when money isn't an issue, they make choices that please administrators but ignore research.
* to read the full Chicago Tribune article “It helps to have a hospital room with a view” by Virginia Postrel, highlight and click on open hyperlink
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Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H., is Clinical Professor, Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Adjunct Professor, Baruch College ( C.U.N.Y.), Rutgers School of Public Health, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration
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