You open the key-card controlled door and enter the room. As you do, the space is bathed in a warm pink glow. The subtle, but sweet smell of coconut touches your nose. Whilst the sound of waves gently lapping a tropical beach caress your ears as you gaze at the sun slipping beyond the horizon….
No, you haven't just arrived at a luxury beach resort.
You’ve just experienced a personalised ‘sensory prescription’ on admission to hospital.
The idea that our sensory environment can have a huge influence over our mood, emotions and even physiology is nothing new.
The Ancient Egyptians used to channel the sun’s energy in the form of prismed light, the full spectrum, into special healing chambers for the sick.
The Ancient Greeks built temples (Asclepeions) that featured carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing. They were built in serene locations amidst beautiful scenery, not unlike modern spas. The spaces focused on music, art, the sound of running water from fountains and pools, and the burning of different spices and aromatics.
And during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale began treating the wounded for the first time with the use of essential oils. She often used lavender, believing that the aroma had soothing and relaxing qualities.
We wanted to explore this use of multisensory design in healthcare further, so we teamed up with our friends in the radiology department at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin. They are not alone in facing some challenges with MRI scans.
Patients get extremely anxious before a scan, and the closely confined and claustrophobic environment inside the scanner compounds matters further. To the point that many patients become very restless and therefore move around, compromising the scan and requiring the procedure to be started all over again.
These repeat scans do nothing to improve patient experience and satisfaction. And they cost hospitals all over the world huge sums of money and vastly increase patient waiting times.
So we set about designing a multisensory solution by creating an aroma and soundscape for the experience, all rooted in cognitive neuroscience and behavioural research.
The results were incredibly insightful.
Levels of patient anxiety, feelings of claustrophobia and number of repeat scans were significantly reduced. General patient satisfaction improved by over 30%.
We’re now looking into follow up studies and interested in collaborating on more research in different fields of healthcare. With such exciting potential benefits, surely sensory prescriptions are something that need to be taken more seriously.