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Hospitals Use VR to Design More Inclusive Rooms for Kids

Hospitals are never the best places to attend, either as a patient or a visitor. Wholly functional, hospitals tend to fill people with a certain dread; they are perceived as places of pain and illness rather than of hope and repair. 

But hospital visits are a necessary requirement for many of us and is usually something that has to be dealt with. Adults usually manage to make the most of this because they realise the gravity of the situation, be it a scheduled or unintentional visit. But this is not the same with children, who have difficulty reconciling a hospital visit. Previous attempts to make hospitals more appealing have really only resulted in bland, unthreatening colours, but in a child’s eyes, that can just make them more unappealing.  

For many younger patients, the glaring lights, barren walls, and windows facing parking areas or brick buildings make already uncomfortable hospital visits much more so, fuelling anxiety and uncertainty rather than optimism. Patients frequently report that it makes recuperation more difficult.

But new thinking has put VR at the centre of hospital design, and for removing uncertainty in visits, and it’s starting to pay dividends. There are two aspects to this and both are showing promise.

  • VR helps with redesigns without doing the physical work. The fact that there are now many Apps that can be used for virtual makeovers means that management can give their hospital a welcoming design, and determine what it will look like without spending a penny. That’s an important consideration in something as complex as a hospital.
  • VR can take the uncertainty out of a hospital visit. Always a major concern when it comes to children, there have not really been any ways previously to prepare children from some of the harsh realities of treatments. Essential areas and equipment such as treatment rooms and operating theatres are typically built to be wholly functional but tend to be very antiseptic and more than a little frightening. But people – and children in particular – can be conditioned to have their fears reduced if they are able to have a virtual tour of such facilities.

VR is key to both of these areas. Because of the complexity and high stakes of hospital surroundings, fabricated room mock-ups are prominent in healthcare design. They offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to determine whether planned crucial life support systems and hospital infrastructure will operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

As conventional mock-ups become more time-consuming and expensive, the new VR platform enables nurses, physicians, and project team leaders to experience the logistics of patient care in real-time, 3D computer-generated hospital settings and provide rapid feedback. But in addition to using VR to plan the most logical and effective layouts for hospitals, VR can be employed to make them more calming through the subtle use of colours and forms to give children a much more relaxed atmosphere.  

Many studies have shown that these measures are beneficial to all patients to some extent, but need to be carefully applied so as not to create a cacophony of colour and shape that can be almost just as startling to young and old alike. This need to establish just the right balance is where VR really makes a difference. Having a virtual environment means that any environment that has been properly modelled can be changed in a blink – be it subtle changes in colour tones or an entirely different colour set. With little effort, the shapes of rooms and additions such as built-in storage can also be moved and changed in size. 

This kind of intervention can be a huge benefit when dealing with hospital patients, who are usually already nervous about going in anyway. VR has already shown a huge potential when it comes to hospital design and it can only become a more powerful tool. But it doesn’t stop at introducing a calming effect for kids and the generally nervous. 

When there is a distinct real-world environment into which digital features can be superimposed, hospital designers are increasingly using an VR mock-up. Users can freely move around the space, and by using helmet mounted displays, they can see additional information that is exactly situated to match their real-world environment. This enables individuals, particularly children, to easily visualise massive or complex equipment digitally, reducing their potential fear of it. VR presents a versatile hybrid environment in which certain items can be entirely digital while others are real-world physical objects. This physical vs. digital balance must be carefully calibrated for each project, but when done correctly, it allows for efficient, accurate feedback, and a lot of familiarity.

Examining how a particular space will function well for its clinicians is an important aspect of the design process for any healthcare facility. Is the equipment and supplies in a logical and easily accessible location? Is it possible to observe while maintaining privacy? Can a gurney go through that turn? These and other judgements are critical to the effectiveness of a design and must be validated. The best way to do that is through the design medium of VR.