Health care lighting exemplifies the intersection of form and function. In addition to remaining symbiotic with the overall design, a health care lighting scheme should provide multiple precise distribution options to deliver layers of light, promote glare-free circadian entrainment, and enable easy maintenance while withstanding harsh cleaning protocols.
A growing understanding of the effects of light on human biology—as well as the importance of light for helping to create pleasant, non-institutional environments—has created a desire for hospital lighting systems to provide flexibility in spectral output and control. With a focus on both patient and staff wellness, the AEC industry and health care facility managers are looking for thoughtfully configured lighting that promotes healing while balancing visual and circadian needs.
Hundreds of studies have been conducted on the impact of hospital design on clinical outcomes. Evidence shows that design plays a significant role: Quality environments can be an important tool in making hospitals safer, more conducive to healing, and more comfortable places to work. To that end, past institutional lighting systems are being replaced with luminaires designed to meet both form and function, such as architecturally integrated LED fixtures that provide soft, indirect light.
Studies on the body’s circadian rhythm, its relationship to overall health, and how it is influenced by light have informed health care lighting design. Unfortunately, many hospitals are typically not bright enough during the day or dark enough during the night to entrain the body’s natural pattern. There are many ways to achieve this including tunable white lighting, biodynamic spectrum technology, or simply a single CCT with adjustable intensity.
Research shows that a certain amount of exposure to blue spectrum light can alter the body’s production of melatonin. Limiting exposure to light at night, especially blue light, may increase melatonin production, which facilitates sleep. Thoughtfully configured lighting for patient rooms that balances both visual and circadian needs promotes healing outcomes. Circadian lighting is not about a single luminaire or isolated area; it considers the illuminated environment as a whole.
The work environment for nurses and physicians in hospitals is often stressful and must accommodate a range of complex duties and critical patient-care tasks1. Nurses’ station lighting should enhance effectiveness, not inhibit it. Based on studies that cite adequate lighting in medication areas as one of the top environmental solutions for avoiding errors, innovative lighting approaches and technologies should be an important consideration during new construction or renovation.
In health care environments, luminaires should meet stringent infection control standards while being easy to maintain. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 25 hospital patients contracts an infection in a health care setting. One way to reduce these health care–acquired infections is to ensure that pathogens can’t get into hard-to-reach lighting fixtures. Installing luminaires designed with materials and finishes like antimicrobial coating that withstand hospital cleaning protocols restricts the flow of pathogens, ensures they can be cleaned without damage, and reduces the ability of pathogens to multiply in the event the luminaires aren’t cleaned.
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 Anjali Joseph, Ph.D., “Impact of Light on Outcomes in Healthcare Settings,” The Center for Health Design, 2006; updated 2014.
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