Lighting the Way: Creating Supportive Healing Environments through Lighting Trends & Research

By Karen Murphy | March/April 2023 Issue | MCD Magazine

The coronavirus pandemic has focused attention on three aspects of healthcare facility design: disinfection/infection isolation, flexibility, and telemedicine. And the following explores how lighting design for healthcare facilities plays a role in each of these areas of interest. 

#1 Disinfection/infection isolation

Upper-air disinfection using ultraviolet-C, or UV-C, light proved highly effective during tuberculosis outbreaks years ago, so it is no surprise the industry turned to this technology once again. Robotic equipment with germicidal ultraviolet light has long been used in hospitals to provide an extra layer of disinfection after surface cleaning during room turnover and is also used in air handling units to disinfect the supply airstream yet was employed in a new innovative way to solve a critical problem. UV-C light was used by some institutions to mitigate the personal protective equipment shortage and protect healthcare providers by allowing for the reuse of PPE. This heightened public awareness of the disinfecting properties of UV-C lead to many new products being introduced to the market and several existing products gaining a resurgence in sales.

Different wavelengths of light have different efficacies of disinfection and different risks for human exposure, yet are often marketed in the same manner. Facility staff should consult a trusted adviser who understands the range of products available, can guide them through the pros and cons of various methods and equipment, work through specific needs and ensure these are met. Evaluating marketing claims requires diving into the data and published research to decipher which applications lend themselves to which technology.

#2 Flexibility

The pandemic also highlighted the need for flexibility. A shortage of patient rooms designed for airborne infection isolation and critical care forced hospitals to repurpose standard med-surg rooms and revamp protocols. From a lighting industry perspective, critical care patient rooms require higher illumination levels on the patient bed than standard patient rooms.

The new trend in designing acuity-adaptable patient rooms means that these rooms must all be designed with higher illumination capabilities. Fortunately. LED lighting permits easy and smooth dimming to accommodate this flexibility. Traditional patient rooms have multiple zones of switched lights. Moving to an environment where the lights are dimmable, permits both patients and staff greater light control, allowing illumination to be tuned to the specific needs of the person and the task being performed.

#3 Telemedicine

The third trend is the expanded use of telemedicine, which increased at the onset of the pandemic. As the medical community learned and developed best practices for telemedical visits, the lighting community also worked to develop best practices.

Following the initiative of the Facility Guidelines Institute and the Center for Health Design, the Illuminating Engineering Society adapted its lighting guidelines for videoconferencing for this evolving medical environment. By understanding the principals of key light, fill light, and background luminance, as well as flicker mitigations and color rendition, lighting designers can enhance the experience and effectiveness of telemedicine.

+ One more thing….circadian-supportive lighting design

One additional lighting trend in healthcare facilities was not one caused by the pandemic, yet rather by the research community. This trend is circadian-supportive lighting design. Natural circadian rhythms are slightly longer than 24 hours; it is light (and dark) that maintains circadian rhythms on a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms can be impacted by five different lighting factors: intensity (the amount of light), spectral power distribution (the wavelength of light), duration (the length of exposure to light), timing (the time of day when light exposure occurs) and light experience (the accustomed personal exposure to light). Over one-third of the human genome is controlled by circadian rhythms, and over half of all drug-response pathways are clock controlled.

In hospitals, where patients are trying to sleep and staff needs light to work, the importance of dynamic lighting systems that stimulate nature’s day-night cycle has been proven beneficial to both patients and healthcare providers. Nightshift workers are at high-risk for circadian disruption. Our body produces cancer-fighting T-cells at night while we sleep. Newborn babies are getting their circadian stimuli through the environment instead of in utero through their mother’s hormones. Lighting is no longer just about visual performance; light’s physiological impact on our bodies is equally as important.

Professional lighting designers add value to project teams, making sure the visual, physiological, and psychological impacts of light are properly designed. And implementing the latest lighting technologies and market trends leads to creating the most supportive healthcare environments for patients, visitors, and staff.

Karen Murphy LC, IALD, LEED AP, is the director of lighting design at HDR and chair of the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Healthcare Facilities Lighting Committee. 

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Written by Anne Holden