I love light. The brighter the room, the better (within reason, of course). I strategically set up my office so I’m facing my windows rather than having my back to them. And, admittedly, my husband regularly nags me about having too many lamps on at home.

But I’m not just imagining the positive effects of a well-lit room. In fact, Craig Zimring, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, shared at the recent Healthcare Design Conference that since 2002, scientists have realized that there’s a receptor in the eye that’s responsible for the non-visual impacts of lighting.

So what’s non-visual mean? A lot. Light can affect alertness, pain, sleep, mood, comfort, experience, and circadian rhythm. So it stands to reason that light can play a pretty significant role in the patient environment.

Zimring was joined by student Khatereh Hadi and Rosalyn Cama, president and principal interior designer of Cama Inc., in the session “Evaluating Innovative Lighting Solutions for Inpatient Rooms.” The team presented the evidence (one example: 46 percent of spinal surgery patients provided with more light used 22 percent less pain medication) and defined what they’re calling a new normal in healthcare design where lighting serves a variety of functions well beyond the visual realm.

So if we recognize the benefits that more strategic lighting can bring to the table, from reduced falls to safer care, what’s next?

As Zimring said, “Knowing something brings benefit isn’t sufficient.” It all comes down to value. So how can we as an industry quantify the value of taking new approaches to lighting? What kind of cost-benefit analysis can be presented to decision-makers?

To help the process, the group created a lighting checklist to use in evaluating lighting designs, covering 14 scenarios to assess and measure how certain you are that a lighting proposal will achieve these goals. Here are a few examples:

  • Reduce falls: Disoriented patient needs to find the bathroom safely at night
  • Improve patient/family experience: Patients and families want varied lighting to provide an outdoor-like experience
  • Reduce energy use: Hospital wants to achieve appropriate lighting levels without creating increased heat in the space.

There are plenty of cool, new things to do with lighting. For example, Cama shared an idea of using RFID technology in staff badges so when an individual enters a patient room, only the amount of light they require is provided. A nurse could check on a patient overnight with only a dim overhead light near the patient bed, or a maintenance worker would instantly be provided enough light to adquately clean the space before a new patient arrives.

But did it work? Did the patient wake up when the nurse entered? Did the lighting level return to the default for patients once the cleaning staff left the room?

It’s this kind of baseline knowledge that needs to be compiled to provide decision-makers with enough evidence to know what they should do on future projects. It will be interesting to hear where the conversation turns next.