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There has been a great deal of recent research regarding the relationship between human health and the built environment. Sustainable design principles that allow access to daylight, fresh air and views have been shown to provide benefits to occupants that improve human health. Since healthcare facilities often serve populations that are already vulnerable to health risks, design decisions affecting health are even more impactful. In 2009, the United States spent approximately $2.5 trillion on healthcare and that number is anticipated to grow by 6.7% by 2017. As healthcare spending continues to increase, the benefits of sustainable healthcare design become increasingly important.
More than fifty studies have shown the benefits of biophilic elements in increasing patient recovery rates, decreasing pain medication needed, and improving emotional well-being. Over $93 million could be saved annually in healthcare costs by simply providing patients with views to nature. In contrast, research shows that poor design and lack of exposure to nature can increase stress and need for pain medicine. These benefits apply not only to patients, but to staff as well. Exposure to nature increases alertness, ability to concentrate, and reduces stress among healthcare providers. Hospital staff members without access to nature or views suffer from increased anxiety, depression and lower job satisfaction, which may impact their ability to deliver needed patient care.
Aside from impacting health, hospitals and healthcare facilities also have a big environmental footprint, as they consume large amounts of both energy and water. In the United States, inpatient healthcare facilities are the second most energy-intensive building type. Also, hospitals generate approximately 7,000 tons of waste each day, and among that waste is infectious, hazardous, and toxic materials. To further improve general public health, the healthcare sector needs to reduce their environmental impact through energy use, water use, and waste.