Having the opportunity to work on many VA Medical Center projects over the past few years, I have seen first-hand how a well designed space can create a better experience for Veterans, staff, families and caregivers. The patient experience matters. If I were to be a patient at a particular hospital what would features would make me feel more at ease? What lighting would make me feel more comfortable? These are just some of the questions I ask myself during a project when I’m designing lighting, electrical or technology systems.
Patient-centered design takes these details into consideration. Exactly what designing for people is all about. For lighting specifically, how can systems be designed to result in a better outcome? From considering the lighting requirements better suited to a specific age group to incorporating nature or organic materials into lighting fixtures, lighting can help establish a more welcoming environment. Moreover, with the option to change lighting with controls or even app-based lighting controls, design can give patients more flexibility and control over their environment. Color changing elements and multiple light levels in different areas of a hospital are just a few other examples of how lighting can enable a patient-centered experience.
Another BIG opportunity and recent trend is designing with circadian rhythm in mind. The human eye has two photoreceptors, which is how your eye responds to light. Just recently, about over 10 years ago, a third photoreceptor called the “Retinal Ganglion Cell” was discovered. This third photoreceptor is what became known as “Circadian Rhythm.” Naturally, the human body produces a hormone called Melatonin, which causes you to become sleepy. and blue light can slow down and suppress that production. Using technology called “Tunable white lighting” we as lighting designers are now able to change the color temperature of lighting throughout the day and keep the circadian rhythm normal. This can be done through lighting controls and scheduling to automatically change light temperature at certain times of the day. For instance, during early morning, higher light levels and cooler light would be used. Late afternoon would use lower light levels and warmer light, while during night low light levels /dark and very warm light color can support a person’s natural circadian rhythm.
There are so many opportunities for lighting designers to make an impact. Taking these details into account when designing lighting will help the patient’s experience become a lot more enjoyable and could even help promote better healing.