Air conditioning systems have come a long way over the past century. They’re now ever-present in residential, commercial, industrial and government premises across the world. And this is so for good reason; when it comes to regulating the climate of an indoor environment, there are few technologies with greater capability.
For obvious reasons, a hospital is a place where keeping a stable and comfortable environment is essential. And so it’s unsurprising that so many hospitals have put air conditioning to good use.
But beyond the simple benefit of providing a comfortable environment, and thereby giving the patients in a hospital one fewer thing to worry about, air-conditioning systems are able to also deliver therapeutic benefits directly to certain sorts of patients.
The efficacy of proper air conditioning in accelerating patient recovery is demonstrable; all other things being equal, patients staying in air-conditioned hospitals tend to recover more quickly. But the extent to which this is so will depend on the disease being treated.
How might climate control aid recovery in certain diseases?
Cardiac patients make up a large chunk of hospital admissions. They are often unable to properly regulate their body temperature, as their circulatory system is inhibited, preventing blood from rising to the surface of the skin and dissipating heat. Cardiac patients will therefore be more sensitive to changes in heat than the general hospital population. By ensuring a constant, comfortable temperature in wards, we can alleviate such symptoms.
We can find similar needs in other patients. Patients with head injuries, for example, might have difficulty regulating the temperature of their bodies because the part of the brain which governs such control has been damaged.
A burn patient might have slightly different needs. In cases where the burns are severe, temperature controls should be made available to allow the local temperature to be adjusted to more than thirty degrees, and to keep the humidity levels as high as possible.
It might seem paradoxical, to the layman, that a burn victim should require more heat. But this is precisely the case, as damage to the skin will inhibit the body’s ability to properly control its temperature. If the skin cannot contain the body’s heat faster than the body can produce it, then the result is hypothermia – a potentially lethal complication. By keeping the temperature and humidity as high as possible, the flow of heat energy from the body to the surrounding air will be minimised.
Fortunately, while we might think of an air conditioner as a device which can channel heat from the interior of a building to the exterior, it’s also one that’s capable of channelling heat in the opposite direction. In a hospital, the needs of the room might change constantly as different patients come and go. With the help of a powerful air conditioning system, we can perform constant adjustments to ensure that the environment is precisely tailored to the needs of recovering patients.
In some areas of a hospital, an air conditioning system isn’t just a welcome luxury – it’s nigh-on indispensable. These might include operating theatres, where precise control of the humidity, the temperature, and the filtration is highly desirable. The same is true to a lesser extent of other sensitive parts of the hospital, like the intensive care ward, delivery rooms, and X-ray, MRI and CAT departments.
Economies of scale
For other, less essential parts of the hospital, like ordinary wards and corridors, we might feel that we can safely cut back on air-conditioning in order to save money. For hospitals under severe budgetary pressure, this might seem sensible. But we should also bear in mind that for hospitals who have already invested in large air conditioning systems which employ centralised coil systems and large networks of air vents to carry cold air through the hospital, much of the cost of climate control will already have been covered – and extending the system to cover waiting rooms, corridors and minor injury units might require little more than installing a few extra vents.
What about psychological benefits?
We’ve thus far focused on the physiological benefits an air conditioning system might afford to recovering patients. But we should also consider the psychological benefits that a positive recovery environment might yield. There is substantial evidence that if patients are relaxed and free from stress, their recovery will be easier and faster, which in turn will lessen the strain on the hospital’s resources.
The same is also true of the staff charged with administering the treatment; doctors, nurses, administrators and cleaners will all work more effectively if they’re provided with a comfortable working environment. By the same token, these benefits will result in a hospital that performs better – which will aid patient recovery.
But hospitals don’t simply have a duty to provide treatment and leave patients to recover – they should also endeavour to ensure that their patients are as comfortable as possible during that recovery, regardless of whether that recovery is accelerated by being comfortable.
With so many areas of patient’s professional and personal lives benefitting from proper climate control, a comfortable temperature is slowly progressing from a luxury to a basic standard, in much the same way that clean drinking water once made the same transition. A hospital which provides quality air conditioning may not be viewed with awe and admiration, then; but one which doesn’t will increasingly be viewed with disdain. For those operating hospitals, it’s important to stay ahead of this trend.
Major investment in climate control might seem like a luxury that many hospital budgets cannot accommodate. But an air conditioning system is certain to bring about a host of benefits for patients and staff: accelerating recovery, reducing the risk of complications, improving staff performance and generally making the hospital a more pleasant place to stay. Each of these benefits will have knock-on effects on the finances of the hospital, ensuring that patients are discharged more quickly and that the strain on the workforce is lessened.