The are a number of opportunities for anyone wanting to incorporate biophilic design principles in healthcare environments. If little or no direct access to nature is available then mimicry (or analogues) of natural material textures and patterns have been demonstrated to have benefical effects. At its simplest this can be done by hanging images of nature on the walls; be it photographs, paintings or prints.
Where there is an existing television screen in a waiting room instead of news broadcasts or television shows (which can have negative messages and give a sense of time passing), a more beneficial use of the screen would be to play moving images of nature or natural landscapes. Dynamic images of nature have been proven to trigger greater pleasurable mental reactions than static imagery for example lapping waves or breezes through trees.
The report by The Centre for Health Design suggests that images of nature reduce our stress levels. This is particularly important in a healthcare setting as stress can increase our heart rates and decrease blood pressure which can affect diagnosis, medical procedures and recovery.
Images of nature have been shown to reduce our anxiety and pain perception whilst improving our sense of the quality of care we are receiving. In the Emergency Room this can reduce restlessness, and improve inter-patient relationships as it can both reduce the invasiveness of “people watching” ( thus increasing individual’s privacy) and also offer opportunities for socialising. The mood enhancing effect of these positive distractions can also reduce noise levels which has positive implication not only for the patients and visitors waiting for treatment, but also on the staff working in the environment.
The benefits of exposure to images of nature have also been found to speed up patient recovery and even as brief encounters they can be restorative. According to the report images of nature need to be non-threatening and positive; for example calm water rather than stormy waves, healthy and familiar flowers, luscious open landscapes with barns and older houses, gardens with openness in the foreground and diversity in the depiction of people who look positive, friendly and at leisure in nature.
The reason why images of nature have a more positive affect than abstract imagery or artworks is discussed as being part of our evolutionary need to rapidly assess and process what is happening within a new environment for survival purposes, before any aesthetic judgements can be made. They also have the ability to provide relief from mental fatigue as they can both distract and remove us from the current environment.
To read the full report click here