Hospital Room Design – High Art

Last month, I took a brief look at hospital room design and its potential to enhance and shorten patient recovery. Today, I’d like to explore another hospital recovery strategy rooted in space and design— art. A recent NBC article reports that more and more hospitals are putting big money behind ambitious art campaigns. The most ambitious of these initiatives – the 5,400 piece collection displayed at Cleveland Clinic hospitals, for instance – essentially amount to museums.

In 2007, more than 40% of healthcare facilities already had some sort of formal arts program, according to the D.C. nonprofit organization Arts & Health Alliance. However, the organization says that only in the past five years have hospitals developed a true interest in large scale investments and linking projects to therapeutic end goals. The organization will conduct a new comprehensive study next year, and is expecting a significant national increase in the number of healthcare facilities with substantial art programs.

The modern rationale for aesthetic art in hospitals, according to the article, can be traced back to a landmark 1984 study conducted by Dr. Roger Ulrich. Through his decade-long study, Ulrich established a link between surgical recovery and the view outside of a hospital window. Patients in the study either saw trees or a brick wall while recovering. Those patients with trees asked for less pain medication and recuperated on average a full day faster than patients facing the brick wall.

Ambitious hospital art campaigns are not without their critics, however. The NBC article quotes architects and hospital administrators who point out that it is difficult to conduct reliable studies with objects of perception. In turn, they also argue that any study can be difficult to translate into effective healthcare policy. Finally, cost must be considered a perennial concern for any modern hospital.

Despite its detractors, I think that hospital art initiatives are a fascinating proposition. Healthcare systems and models are changing— I think it is a great time to consider new, unorthodox methods to support efficient care.




The Once (and Future?) Scotland

Today is a big day – at least in terms of global politics – as Scotland is voting on its long-awaited independence referendum. If the referendum succeeds, Scotland will become a separate, self-governed country for the first time since 1707. I’ve been closely following Scotland’s push for independence since even before my recent visit to the beautiful country.

All indications point to a close vote that will be decided by a single-digit margin. No matter the outcome, this will be a decisive and historic moment that will shape the future of the British Isles. And from a political communications standpoint, it has been an absolutely fascinating case study. One side has taken a positive, inspiring tone; the other has been accused of fear-mongering and threatening. Celebrities and global figures have sided with each.

On Tuesday, Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland’s independence movement, published a final letter of appeal to Scottish voters.  In a campaign that has stirred many emotions, I found the conclusion of his message to provoke some thoughtful insight.

“What to do? Only each of us knows that. For my part, I ask only this: Make this decision with a clear head and a clear conscience.”

Well put, and a good lesson for any of us. Follow your conscience. Do what’s right. After all, your future could depend on it.

Antibiotics: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chances are you’ve needed antibiotics once or twice in your life to deal with some sort of bug. The problem, according to this article, is that antibiotics are now taken as a “cure-all” without really understanding the consequences of misuse.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern within the medical community that deserves a broader degree of attention and discussion in mainstream media (and not just in more horror movies). A 2013 CDC report estimates that more than 2 million people in the United States will become sick this year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections. Of those, 22,000 will die.

In April, the World Health Organization also published its first global report on antibiotic resistance. After gathering data from 114 countries, the report found that resistance to common bacteria had reached “alarming” levels in many parts of the world.

The cause of this serious threat to public health is nothing particularly complicated — nature’s desire to adapt, coupled with our own habits and behavior. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization insist that two of the strongest drivers of antibiotic resistance are overuse and incorrect use. For doctors, this implies prescribing antibiotics when they are not necessary. For patients, it implies not finishing an entire regimen of treatment, or not following proper dosage instructions.

So what can be done? According to the article, we need more responsible patients and doctors. While new classes of antibiotics will eventually be discovered, development is slow and expensive. Hence, our homes, pharmacies and doctors’ offices are the places where you and I can make the biggest difference. Small steps, such as following dosage directions, could help safeguard one of the greatest tools in modern medicine.

Quitting Tobacco for Your Sake

As a healthcare professional, I’m always in favor of any effort to promote smart life choices. When a $120-billion company gets involved, I’m thrilled.

Last week, CVS announced that it had officially pulled all tobacco products from its store shelves. The announcement also coincided with an important name change – CVS/Caremark Corp. is now CVS Health. According to a video on the company’s website, CVS is hoping to demonstrate a renewed commitment to health in America.

The path to this historic move began in February, when the company shocked both Wall Street analysts and the healthcare community by announcing its intent to remove tobacco from its stores by October. The company is running the tagline, “This is the right thing to do.” It’s simple, powerful and compelling.

While initially unsure of how to interpret the company’s decision, many analysts now view CVS Health as a hugely promising brand initiative. Its success will depend on whether or not the company can commit to its new identity and reposition its business operations. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the coming months, but removing tobacco from its store shelves a month early is certainly an encouraging sign.

In a wider context, I think the CVS decision marks an ongoing shift in health consciousness in America. I think it also reflects evolving attitudes toward smoking in the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how CVS’s decision affects competitors such as Walgreens and Rite Aid. Hopefully, the CVS rebranding will place pressure on these major drugstore chains to make similar long-term business decisions. At the very least, it should open an internal dialogue. And that brings us one step closer to promoting smart life choices.

The Financial Pursuit of Happiness

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to travel, try new things and enjoy different surroundings. Apparently, I’m not the only one. According to an NPR article, research suggests that some people may receive more happiness from experiences rather than making material purchases – even if that experience is simply standing in line.

NPR’s You Can Buy Happiness, If It’s An Experience highlights a study called Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases. The research tracked about 100 college students and over 2,200 randomly selected adults, examining how they felt about material goods and experiences. The findings suggest that:

“People got excited about both things and events. But they tended to feel more positive about experiential purchases, and their feelings about material purchases were more likely to be tinged with feelings of impatience.”

I think this research is fascinating. The way people experience happiness can be impacted by so many factors. Pretty cool. I’m curious, if you had the choice between buying an experience or making a material purchase, what would you choose?

If you are interested in checking out the whole study, please click here.

A 21st-Century Museum Trip

Alexey Moskvin/Tate Britain
Alexey Moskvin/Tate Britain

I am constantly in awe of technology and the advancements that have been made just within my lifetime – particularly when it crosses with one of my biggest passions: travel.

Recently, the Tate Britain museum in London engaged people around the world in their “After Dark” project. I learned about the project while listening to an NPR segment called “A Night at the Museum – With Robots” and was instantly amazed by the experience that was offered to virtually anybody with access to the internet.

“After Dark” gave people the opportunity to control one of four robots around the museum after hours. Participants filled out a brief form and were randomly selected to take control of the robots for a few minutes. The robots navigated around the exhibits, streaming a “robot’s-eye” view into 500 years of British art.

Throughout the night, experts and museum guides offered viewers commentary on the art – providing a truly interactive experience. Even those who were not selected to control a robot had the chance to see the museum in a unique and engaging way.

Unsurprisingly, The Tate took a number of precautions to make sure the robots couldn’t damage the art (including a wide base with a kill switch if the robot were to run into anything). Tate employees even created a space in the basement to monitor the nights’ activity and address any issues.

Efforts like this give people the ability to travel to places they may never have the opportunity to visit in person. I hope to see more projects like this take off as our technology becomes more and more advanced. Do you know of other initiatives like “After Dark”?

Designed for Recovery Speed

While a significant amount of research has been done surrounding the factors that matter most for patient recovery, a recent New York Times article discussed an unexpected factor which could enhance recovery times: the design of a patient’s room.

Several years ago, the University Medical Center of Princeton decided to open a larger facility. Throughout the design process, they engaged their medical staff as well as patients, seeking input on the layout of the new patient rooms. Then, according to the article, something interesting happened:

“Equipment was installed, possible situations rehearsed. Then real patients were moved in from the surgical unit — hip and knee replacements, mostly — to compare old and new rooms. After months of testing, patients in the model room rated food and nursing care higher than patients in the old rooms did, although the meals and care were the same.

But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30 percent less pain medication.”

Reduced pain hastens recovery and rehabilitation times. Those figures, in turn, translate into shorter stays, diminished costs and fewer chances for accidents and infections. Today, with the rooms fully operable, patient satisfaction ratings are in the 99th percentile, up from the 61st percentile before the move, and infection and accident rates are lower than ever.

Source: The New York Times
Source: The New York Times

All of this because of the room’s design. It’s so interesting that the healthcare industry continues to form new, innovative ways to care for patients and get them on the path to recovery more quickly. What types of things would you install in your dream patient room?

Buckets of Ice Equal Buckets of Money

Over the past few weeks you may have noticed your friends, family and celebrities – basically everyone you know and most everyone you don’t – dumping buckets of ice water on themselves. The act, which has gone viral since mid-July, is in an effort to raise both money and awareness about the debilitating condition of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Most videos follow a similar format. Someone standing alone with a bucket of ice water at the ready. People typically say who challenged them, before dumping the water overhead. They then post it to their social media accounts, challenging a few friends to do the same or to donate some amount of money to ALS. Celebrities including Matt Lauer, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Swift and LeBron James have posted videos in support of the campaign.

There’s been a lot of conversation challenging the impact that these videos are actually making. Opponents to the video campaign are calling on people to avoid posting the video altogether, referring to it as slacktivism, and to just donate money to the cause.

Proponents of the videos merely turn to the numbers. According to a recent NYT story:

  • More than 1.2 million videos were posted to Facebook between June 1 and August 13
  • More than 2.2 million Tweets mentioned the challenge since July 29
  • $13.3 million in donations to the ALS Association since July 29, compared with $1.7 million during the same period last year
  • 260,000 new donors to the association in that same timespan

In 2014, activism and social engagement look tremendously different than even 5 years ago. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been changing the landscape of how people, especially young people, get involved with causes. The evolution has been fascinating to watch, and I feel confident it will only continue.

What’s your take on the Ice Bucket Challenge?

How to Prepare for Super Strains?

As the Ebola epidemic continues to terrorize much of West Africa, a conversation is happening in the science and research communities about what can be done to prevent or address another deadly outbreak. This week on NPR, a segment titled “Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens” laid out the debate: is the risk of conducting experiments with infectious elements worth it?

“Proponents of the work say that in order to protect the public from the next naturally occurring pandemic, they have to understand what risky infectious agents are capable of — and that means altering the microbes in experiments.”

This side of the debate shifts the argument away from whether or not scientists should even conduct these experiments, saying instead that we should focus on giving them the safest equipment possible. Scientists should research infectious and contagious bacteria, this line of thinking says, to understand the outbreaks and be prepared to protect the public’s health if something were to happen.

Meanwhile, “critics argue that the knowledge gained from making new strains of these germs isn’t worth the risk, because a lab-made pathogen might escape the laboratory and start spreading among people.”

Both sides have garnered support from the science community and have formed their own coalitions of heavy hitters in the research field. The National Academy of Sciences has been called on to arrange a forum where both sides can come together for an open conversation.

The outcome is TBD, but this topic has clearly taken on new relevance in recent weeks.

Scottish Traipse

As I’ve mentioned before, I love having the opportunity to explore new places and immerse myself in new cultures. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of beautiful and exciting places around the world – including a recent visit to Scotland.

I was in absolute awe of the country. From the rolling hills to the beautiful countryside to the incredible food and drinks, Scotland is an amazing place and a hidden gem in the United Kingdom. I’ve shared some pictures with you on this post, but they just won’t do it justice.

Where’s the most amazing place you’ve been? I’d love to know.

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