How WELL is your healthcare practice?
Back in 1986, the concept of ‘sick building syndrome’ was coined by the World Health Organisation in recognition of a building’s impact on its occupants. After all, a building is more than just a shell to house its occupants; its design affects movement, human potential and health. The design of your medical practice affects everybody who enters it, including patients, doctors, ancillary healthcare workers, staff and suppliers.
Building programs such as the WELL Building Standard recognise that supportive health design will lead naturally to better health and well-being, reduced stress, higher motivation and productivity. Healthcare design company Evoke Projects looks at the benefits of putting WELL into the WELLness industry.
WELL buildings support our physical and mental health through 10 core concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community. There are valuable WELL principles for healthcare design in all these concepts, including biophilic design to connect us with nature. Looking specifically at medical and healthcare practice design, research has shown that biophilic design resulted in post-operative rates of recovery reducing by 8.5%, while pain medication was reduced by 22%.1
So how can you incorporate WELL principles into your healthcare practice?
1. Improve air quality
The WELL Air concept aims to achieve high levels of indoor air quality across a building’s lifetime through diverse strategies that include source elimination or reduction, active and passive building design and operation strategies and human behaviour interventions.
The WELL Building Standard recommends carbon dioxide measurement as a guide towards general pollutant levels. Of course, opening windows will naturally freshen up the indoor air and reduce carbon dioxide levels. In addition, advanced air filtration systems can be installed during a new healthcare practice fit-out such as a displacement ventilation system (where old air is taken by vents in the ceiling while fresh air is delivered through the floor).
Indoor air quality is affected by furniture, flooring and carpets so check material safety data sheets for volatile organic compounds (such as formaldehyde).
2. Let there be light
The WELL Light concept promotes exposure to light and aims to create lighting environments that promote visual, mental and biological health.
Natural light is a core component of biophilic design. Windows and skylights should be incorporated into the healthcare design wherever possible. Bright artificial lights can feel stark and unwelcoming so consider homely lighting in consulting rooms with the ability to increase light for examinations. Task lighting or dimmer switches will provide that versatility. LED lights with colour and tone options are another solution.
Also consider staff who are in the healthcare practice for long periods. Natural light reduces the likelihood of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that causes depression in workers who don’t get enough natural light during their day. Blinds can assist with reducing glare and heat gain.
The WELL Sound concept aims to bolster occupant health and well-being through the identification and mitigation of acoustical comfort parameters that shape occupant experiences in the built environment.
Acoustic damping is worthwhile in walls and ceilings. For floors, vinyl tiles have better acoustics than ceramic or stone tiles. Partitions can help with acoustics as well as improving social distancing and privacy.
If there are unpleasant noises, patients will feel more relaxed if they can listen to music. Encourage them to bring a smartphone and earbuds or you can provide a set with sterile headset covers.
Hearing loops are invaluable to people with hearing aids to improve their sensory experience.
4. Use safe materials throughout the healthcare fit-out
The WELL Materials concept aims to reduce human exposure, whether direct or through environmental contamination, to chemicals that may impact health during the construction, remodelling, furnishing and operation of buildings.
By-products from building materials used during a healthcare fit-out or healthcare practice refurbishment are an important consideration for a WELL practice. Look for products that minimise volatile organic compound content limits, formaldehyde emission levels and the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Effective cleaning solutions can be harsh so consider using non-toxic disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19.
5. Soothe the mind
The WELL Mind concept promotes mental health through policy, program and design strategies that seek to address the diverse factors that influence cognitive and emotional well-being.
By demonstrating that your healthcare practice is COVID-safe, you soothe the minds of patients and staff. This reassures people who need to attend important appointments and check-ups during the pandemic.
Biophilic healthcare design will certainly help to improve mental health. Natural plants are visually appealing, calming, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Invoke nature with artwork and music that provides a relaxing backdrop in the waiting area. Nature-resembling colours such as green, blue and brown can positively impact patient and staff well-being.
With lost productivity, due largely to absenteeism, costing Australian businesses billions of dollars every year, keeping WELL in your healthcare fit-out makes good business sense. You can read more about the WELL Building Standard at https://www.wellcertified.com.
Please call the healthcare design and fit-out experts at Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692 for more information.