Do you enjoy being in a hospital? Many people would say, no. If you find yourself in a hospital you are most likely (with the exception of a child’s birth) not there for a good reason. It doesn’t help that many hospitals are drab, sterile, and colorless environments. But many healthcare facilities are wising up and adding elements of biophilic design (incorporating nature into design) to improve patients health and recovery by making their stay more pleasant, naturally.

An increasing number of new hospitals and healthcare centers are designing more green spaces, access to natural light, and views of nature from patient rooms into their initial construction. Studies have shown that biophilic design can influence faster recovery, lower the use of postoperative medication, reduce the stress of staff, and improve emotional wellness (1). And that translates into some serious cost savings.

A study by Roger Ulrich in 1984 found that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery and whose windows overlooked a scene of nature where released 8.5% sooner (2). Another study in 2001 found that bipolar patients with rooms that had direct morning sunlight were released on average 3.67 days sooner (3). By reducing the length of patient stay by half a day, hospitals can save $93 million in operational costs every year (1).

Green spaces can also affect a patient’s dependency on pain medication. A study in 2003 conducted at a teaching hospital in Baltimore found that patients undergoing a Flexible Bronchoscopy surrounded by pictures of nature and nature sounds experience better pain control during the invasive procedure (4). Another study in 2005 found that patients with 46% more sunlight in their rooms perceived less pain and accumulated 21% less in pain medication costs for the length of their stay (5). Hospital staff too can benefit from biophilic design, as they often experience the same reduction in stress when surrounded by nature, and are able to provide better care as a result.

The methods of including natural elements into healthcare design vary. Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is a LEED Platinum certified building that has 3.5 acres of gardens and green space, including a green roof. Every nursing unit has an outdoor view, and outdoor planters in the solar shading system provide a connection to nature for every patient (6). The Anschutz Wellness Center at CU Aurora integrated a small green roof garden with seating areas for a quiet nature retreat (7). Many hospitals are now using the data accumulated since Ulrich’s initial study to use garden and outdoor spaces as part of the treatment process (8).

Although spending time in a garden won’t cure someone of cancer, it can reduce pain and stress, which can give a patient’s immune system the boost it needs to heal more effectively. And with healthcare accounting for more that 17% of our nation’s GDP, faster recovery on a grand scale can have a huge macroeconomic impact. Clearly integrating green spaces with healthcare has far reaching benefits for patients and the industry at large.


  2. Ulrich, R. S. “View through a window may influence recovery from surgery” Science, Vol. 224. 1984.
  3. Benedetti, Francesco, Cristina Colombo, Barbara Barbini, Euridice Campori, and Enrico Smeraldi. “Morning sunlight reduces length of hospitalization in bipolar depression.” Elsevier Science Ltd., Journal of Affective Disorders 221-223. Milan, Italy. 2001.
  5. Walch, Jeffrey M., Bruce S. Rabin, Richard Day, Jessica N. Williams, Krissy Choi, and James D. Kang. “The Effect of Sunlight on Postoperative Analgesic Medication Use.” Psychosomatic Medicine 67:156-163. 2005.