Earlier this year, I found myself spending extended periods of time in hospitals—first with my dad who was having heart surgery and then with a dear friend who was dealing with complications from a post-cancer liver transplant. These visits provided a unique opportunity to experience hospitals as an end-user and not as a healthcare design professional.

There were noticeable similarities and differences between the two facilities, one a large teaching hospital and the other a community hospital. One thing that jumped out at me in both cases, though, was how quiet the patient floors were. Both had done a great job of reducing noise in the corridors, keeping patient room doors closed, and eliminating overhead paging.

That was until the construction noise started at the teaching hospital, which was converting the floor below into a new unit. It was like nothing I’ve experienced in all my years of walking construction sites. My friend and his wife shared that it had been like that all day, every day, from early morning until early evening. All I could think was, “How have we not found a fix for this?”

Another thing I noticed was the sheer monotony of long hospitalizations, whether you’re a patient or visitor. After spending far too many months in hospitals this past year, my friend said he’s found something happens to his brain during an extended stay: He stops feeling any sense of time and place and can just sit quietly in a chair for hours on end, staring at nothing as time passes by. It’s almost as if the brain simply shuts down from lack of stimulation. If we’re designing spaces for health and well-being, we’re missing a vital component that helps to provide healthy positive distractions. Again, I thought, “We can do better than this.”

This idea was reinforced when, a few weeks later, I read the article “Happiness by Design: Multi-Sensory Wellness Spaces,” by Valerie Jardon on Issuu.com. The piece speaks to the science behind spaces for respite, diversion, and wellness. Jardon advocates for small (as small as 64 square feet) multisensory wellness rooms that incorporate customizable experiences of light, sound, color, taste, touch, and smell to engage, delight, and support happiness and well-being. As I read the paper, I kept thinking how a space like that would have been a welcome concept at the two hospitals I had just experienced.

We’ve come so far over the last few decades in caring for physical well-being by designing safer healthcare spaces that support patients and caregivers. And yet, we have much left to accomplish.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at dlevin@healthdesign.org.