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Hospital architecture benefits from including psychological research findings into the design of hospitals
Modern hospital buildings are designed to minimize the effort of medical personnel and the possibility of contamination while maximizing the efficiency of the whole system. Travel time for personnel within the hospital and the transportation of patients between units is facilitated and minimized. The building also should be built to accommodate heavy departments such as radiology and operating rooms while space for special wiring, plumbing, and waste disposal must be allowed for in the design.
However, the reality is that many hospitals, even those considered 'modern', are the product of continual and often badly managed growth over decades or even centuries, with utilitarian new sections added on as needs and finances dictate. As a result, Dutch architectural historian Cor Wagenaar has called many hospitals:
- "... built catastrophes, anonymous institutional complexes run by vast bureaucracies, and totally unfit for the purpose they have been designed for ... They are hardly ever functional, and instead of making patients feel at home, they produce stress and anxiety."
Some newer hospital designs now try to reestablish design that takes the patient's psychological needs into account, such as providing for more air, better views, and more pleasant color schemes. These ideas hearken back to the late eighteenth century, when the concept of providing fresh air and access to the 'healing powers of nature' were first employed by hospital architects in improving their buildings.
Another major change which is still ongoing in many parts of the world is the change from a ward-based system (where patients are treated and accommodated in communal rooms, separated at best by movable partitions) to a room-based environment, where patients are accommodated in private rooms. The ward-based system has been described as very efficient, especially for the medical staff, but is considered to be more stressful for patients and detrimental to their privacy. A major constraint on providing all patients with their own rooms is however found in the higher cost of building and operating such a hospital, which causes some hospitals to charge for the privilege of private rooms.