Nature Is the Best Medicine: More Hospitals Are Incorporating "Healing Gardens" and Speeding Patient Recovery

By Johnson, Jean | E Magazine, September-October 2007 | Go to article overview

Nature Is the Best Medicine: More Hospitals Are Incorporating "Healing Gardens" and Speeding Patient Recovery


Johnson, Jean, E Magazine


Natural light, says Roger Ulrich, professor of architecture at Texas A&M University, can make a world of difference. In 1984 after Ulrich was hospitalized with a broken leg, he launched what has become the classic study in the field of healing environments: "Biophilia, Biophobia, and Natural Landscapes."

"The patients were assigned essentially randomly to rooms that were identical except for window view: one member of each pair overlooked a small stand of deciduous trees, the other had a view of a brown brick wall," Ulrich writes. "Patients with the natural window view had shorter postoperative hospital stays, had few negative comments in nurses' notes, and tended to have lower scores for minor post-surgical complications such as persistent headache or nausea requiring medication. Moreover, the wall-view patients required many more injections of potent painkillers, whereas the tree-view patients more frequently received weal oral analgesics such as acetaminophen."

Incorporating Nature

Hospitals still need to bring nature into the clinical setting. But there are a few trailblazing institutions as well as people like Becky Pape, CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Oregon, who have become believers.

Indeed, only a curving bank of ceiling-to-floor glass separates patients undergoing chemotherapy at Samaritan Lebanon's Emenhiser Center from a 11,250 square-foot Japanese garden. Designed by an award-winning father-and-son team, Hoichi and Koichi Kurisu of Kurisu International, the garden boasts three gentle waterfalls and mature black pines.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"We now know that exposure to nature is not just a nice thing--it's essential," says Pape. "We'll never build anything the way we did it before when it was all about technology. I've been completely converted. Before the garden, I would have bought a CT scanner or the equivalent with a large sum of money, but now I think we have to marry the technology with an improved environment for patients and staff."

Samaritan Lebanon patient Alice Koch couldn't agree more. "You can lose yourself in the garden instead of thinking about the unfortunate things that have happened to you in the hospital," she says. "I get the most restful, positive feelings watching water tumbling down from the rocks and fish in the pools and the changing seasons."

Healing Environments

Koch and Pape are not isolated voices. In the years since Ulrich's seminal research, medical studies have confirmed what we instinctively know: providing access to the natural world can have measurable benefits. Specifically, healing environments with pleasant and interesting views of the outside world have been shown to promote faster recovery and shortened hospital stays, increased treatment effectiveness and decreased pain, and increased patient and staff satisfaction.

"The therapeutic value of a quiet meditative environment for individuals affected by a serious illness like cancer is widely recognized," says Dr. …

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