Healing Environment

Imagine yourself sick, with any illness, lying in a hospital bed, staring at the hospital curtains or watching television. You don’t feel well, anxious. You hear the medical personnel rushing around outside your door and every so often, one of them comes and checks on you. You wait for medical tests to be performed, results to come back, to be diagnosed, to be treated, to be discharged. The entire time you think about being anywhere else but the hospital. You wish you were at home surrounded by your personal effects, surrounded by familiar sights, sounds, and smells, but you can’t because you are lying in a hospital bed.

This is often the patient experience, granted some institutions provide a better patient experience, but patients all have one thing in common due to the uncertainty of their conditions and being in an unfamiliar environment. They are stressed, they feel anxious, and they would rather not be in the inpatient ward of a hospital. Patients have too much time to dwell on uncertainty, their problems, and their illnesses because they have nothing else to focus on.

Think back to a time you had a deadline coming up, but you avoid it for whatever reason. You try and think of something else, but every time you sit down with nothing to do, your mind wanders right back to that commitment. It’s the same with patients in the hospital. Patients may try and sleep, read, write, color, or converse with family, but in the end, they are going to wander back to the elephant in the room, their illness. Patients need a distraction to keep their minds from wandering back to their illness and simply watching television does not seem to be effective.

Susan Mazer, the president and CEO of a company called Healing Healthcare Systems, has produced The Continuous Ambient Relaxation Environment (C.A.R.E) Channel. As a classically trained musician, Mazer sought to address the problem of hospital noise that disrupts the patient-healing process and to improve the lived experience of the patient. The C.A.R.E Channel, a 24-hour patient television channel, addresses these problems with 84 hours of nonrepetitive programming (nature scenes) and original music scores. In an interview with Susan, she notes that the C.A.R.E Channel is “not for people that are looking for entertainment, it is for people looking to relieve anxiety, fear, and anything involved in the patient experience in a 24 hour period.”

Susan’s creation brings original music to patients as they need it while they can enjoy tranquil nature scenes void of all human contact, and for a while, not focus on their immediate surroundings. Patients are able to take their minds off of their current problems and engage in the images and sounds provided in an otherwise impersonal space. The programming has resulted in much success with multiple patient testimonies stating that they were transported by the music and images and ultimately aided in their recoveries by relieving the stress that the hospital unduly brings. The programming is now in 360 hospitals and has been serving patients for over 20 years.

One thing that interested me in my interview with Susan was the research that she noted performed by Roger Ulrich on the effects of nature, natural light, and a window in their room on the patient’s outcome compared to patient outcomes without these advantages. You can probably guess the outcomes of his research: the patients with a view of nature and natural light had significant health effects such as reduced perceived anxiety, reduced pain, increased pain tolerance, reduced blood pressure, and a faster recovery time. This led me to another company that has contributed to the patient-hospital experience called Continuum.

I was able to speak with Yuhgo Yamiguchi, a Principal Design Strategist at Continuum to find out more about the company. Continuum is a product development firm, and although it has since grown into a company with multiple ventures, their roots began and have continued in the medical field. They, like Susan Mazer, aspire to connect human needs with healthcare services. Continuum has designed hospitals around the aspects of nature that aid in patient recovery specifically for the health benefits mentioned previously.

At the end of the interview, I asked Yuhgo why he thought his work was important. He said “compared to a lot of different industries healthcare can’t deliver subpar experiences...it is in design, to have people live longer.” What he says is very true, the patient experience is a design and patients don’t deserve a subpar experience when they are at their worst. It is counterproductive, when we know that patients’ recoveries can be aided by something like the C.A.R.E Channel, or a view of nature, to not make it available for patients. Patients deserve a healing environment. They can benefit from it exponentially and maybe they will feel comfort in the little things that a hospital can make available to them. Continuum and Healing Healthcare Systems continues to tweak aspects of the patient and hospital experience through design, and hopefully they will continue to improve the patient experience into the future.