Does hospital ambience affect patient health?

Does a fancy hospital interior and soothing music help promote faster healing?  Sharp Hospital system certainly things so. NPR’s Marketplace even covers the story:

Dan Gross is executive vice president of Sharp Healthcare. I meet up with him in the lobby for my tour of the swanky Sharp Memorial. Its a $200-million hospital in San Diego. And it’s built with the principals of what’s known as “evidence-based design.”

GROSS: There’s a lot of research today and a lot of conversation around how the design of a hospital really promotes comfort, healing and produces better quality outcomes for patients.

Does a “nice” hospital actually improve health outcomes? That will be difficult to ascertain. Building a fancy hospital may improve outcomes, or it may be the case that nicer hospitals attractive relatively richer, relatively healthier patients.

Even if “evidenced-based design” does improve health outcomes, the change in ambience may not affect patient health directly.  For instance, Sharp talks about using the Disney concept of on-stage and off-stage work where “…nurses have private areas ‘off stage’ where they can prepare medications uninterrupted.”  Having nurses think they are “on stage” may incentivize them to work harder, smarter and more professionally. Further, a more luxurious hospital may attract higher quality staff.

From an individual hospital’s point of view, it doesn’t matter which mechanism is causing this improvement in health.  From society’s point of view, however, if fancy new hospitals simply attract the best staff and healthier, more affluent patients, then improved hospital design may be a waste of resources.

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