Sensory environment on health-related outcomes of hospital patients

The hospital environment (such as sounds, pictures, aromas, design, air quality, furnishings, architecture, and layout), may have an impact on the health of patients within it. This review aims to summarise the best available evidence on hospital environments, in order to help people involved in the design of hospital environments make decisions that will benefit patients' health.

The review identified 102 relevant studies, 85 of which were on the use of music in hospital. Other environmental aspects considered were: aromas (two studies), audiovisual distractions (five studies), decoration (one study), air quality (three studies), bedroom type (one study), flooring (two studies), furniture and furnishings (one study), lighting (one study), temperature (one study), and multiple design changes (two studies). No studies meeting the inclusion criteria were found to evaluate: art, access to nature for example through hospital gardens, atriums, flowers, and plants, ceilings, interventions to reduce hospital noise, patient controls, technologies, way-finding aids, or the provision of windows.

Overall, it appears that music in hospital may help improve patient-reported outcomes such as anxiety; however, there is less evidence to support the use of music for physiological outcomes (such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure) and for reducing the use of medications. For other aspects of hospital environments, there are not very many well designed studies to help with making evidence-based design decisions. The studies that have been included in this review show that physical changes made to 'improve' the hospital environment on the whole do no harm.

Authors' conclusions: 

Music may improve patient-reported outcomes in certain circumstances, so support for this relatively inexpensive intervention may be justified. For some environmental interventions, well designed research studies have yet to take place.

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Background: 

Hospital environments have recently received renewed interest, with considerable investments into building and renovating healthcare estates. Understanding the effectiveness of environmental interventions is important for resource utilisation and providing quality care.

Objectives: 

To assess the effect of hospital environments on adult patient health-related outcomes.

Search strategy: 

We searched: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (last searched January 2006); MEDLINE (1902 to December 2006); EMBASE (January 1980 to February 2006); 14 other databases covering health, psychology, and the built environment; reference lists; and organisation websites. This review is currently being updated (MEDLINE last search October 2010), see Studies awaiting classification.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised and non-randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies, and interrupted times series of environmental interventions in adult hospital patients reporting health-related outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently undertook data extraction and 'Risk of bias' assessment. We contacted authors to obtain missing information. For continuous variables, we calculated a mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD), and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for each study. For dichotomous variables, we calculated a risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). When appropriate, we used a random-effects model of meta-analysis. Heterogeneity was explored qualitatively and quantitatively based on risk of bias, case mix, hospital visit characteristics, and country of study.

Main results: 

Overall, 102 studies have been included in this review. Interventions explored were: 'positive distracters', to include aromas (two studies), audiovisual distractions (five studies), decoration (one study), and music (85 studies); interventions to reduce environmental stressors through physical changes, to include air quality (three studies), bedroom type (one study), flooring (two studies), furniture and furnishings (one study), lighting (one study), and temperature (one study); and multifaceted interventions (two studies). We did not find any studies meeting the inclusion criteria to evaluate: art, access to nature for example, through hospital gardens, atriums, flowers, and plants, ceilings, interventions to reduce hospital noise, patient controls, technologies, way-finding aids, or the provision of windows. Overall, it appears that music may improve patient-reported outcomes such as anxiety; however, the benefit for physiological outcomes, and medication consumption has less support. There are few studies to support or refute the implementation of physical changes, and except for air quality, the included studies demonstrated that physical changes to the hospital environment at least did no harm.

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