Biophilic Design in Hospitals: Benefits and Tips

The medicinal benefits of indoor plants are well known amongst us in the horticulture industry. However, people in the healthcare sector are generally only aware of the aesthetic benefits. A few tips and best practices for biophilic design in hospitals.

With all the clinical studies proving plants help patients feel better and recover faster, every hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation clinic should be full of foliage. While I notice these places spend thousands on landscaping, budgeting for an interior plant service seems minimal or nonexistent. 

Research on Indoor Plants

Whenever I solicit a medical building or get an opportunity to meet the Operations Manager, I always mention clinical studies that have demonstrated patients in hospital rooms with foliage had lower blood pressure, less pain, anxiety, and fatigue than patients in rooms without plants. Not only did nature help patients physically, but studies showed exposure to biophilic design in hospitals reduced stress levels and gave a more positive impression of medical staff and the hospital in general.  

Those results are a win-win for medical employees and board members! Not only do plants reflect more positively on the facility, but they also help reduce the stress on staff tending to patients and the amount of drugs administered. Because hearing something doesn’t mean it sinks in or is remembered, I always add the clinical study information to my proposal so the prospective client can see it in writing. 

My History with Plants in Healthcare

indoor plants healthcare

One obstacle to having plants inside a patient’s room is the difficulty of servicing. Plant techs coming in and out is pretty impractical due to privacy issues. However, an easy work-around is having common areas full of plants. With a history of over thirty surgeries in seven different hospitals, I can personally attest that I most enjoyed when I could to take my IV pole to a solarium or sometimes walk outside among the trees and fresh air, rather than watching the clock and waiting for my next morphine dose.

No matter how soft the ten-thousand-dollar bed or how accessible the TV, every sterile hospital room with its beeping equipment, white walls, staff coming in and out, made me depressed and uncomfortable. Only in hospitals with a sunny area and potted plants did my mood and attitude improve because I had nature to escape into.

If you can convince a medical facility to subscribe to your services, there are a few important factors to remember when deciding which plants to install.

Pick the Right Plant for the Environment

indoor plants health

First, if you use temperamental foliage, you must be on top of it constantly. I once took over a doctor’s office building by writing to the management company about how seeing dying areca palms off the elevator isn’t conducive to helping people feel better.

The lobby had low-lighting and no windows. I made the mistake of installing marginatas, which quickly experienced shock and began yellowing and dropping leaves. The property manager questioned my judgement. Luckily, he gave me the benefit of the doubt after I explained the plant wasn’t dying but going through an acclimation period.

Looking back, I should have installed a plant like a lisa cane in the beginning and I wouldn’t have put any doubt in my quality of service. Lesson learned, if you’re incorporating biophilic design in hospitals or a healthcare environment, make sure the foliage you choose always looks healthy and vibrant.

Dusty Plants Are No Good

Second medical concern – dust is not allowed. Respiratory issues are a major concern in medical environments and my healthcare clients stress to me the importance that all plant leaves are dust free. This is an important factor when determining plant selection. 

Foliage such as Ficus trees can be a nightmare to dust and probably a bad choice to use even with great light. If your interiorscape design is located along a hallway or high traffic area, plan on extra service time for dusting. I have two buildings with plants in the main walkways with sliding doors constantly opening, which doubles my service time to keep them clean. 

Choose Indoor Plants that Withstand Abuse

plants healthcare

Third concern – public abuse. One downside with maintaining indoor plants inside public areas is breakage. Kids hang off palm fronds, people rip lyrata leaves by walking too close or pulling at them, and often underplanting such as bromeliads are stolen. Be prepared for plants to take some abuse, get taken home, or, perhaps, given to a patient. 

In one of my rehab facilities, I noticed a beautiful croton was missing from a sitting area. After some searching, I discovered it in a nearby patient room. The gentleman insisted it was his plant, given to him by his daughter. I certainly didn’t argue. The daughter probably saw it in the window and thought it would be a nice gift.

Instead, I contacted the operations director and she assured me if they couldn’t get the plant back after he was discharged, I could bill them for another croton. In the medical world, all sorts of crazy situations can happen. So long as you are prepared and price accordingly, your service will not only benefit your business but also the patients.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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