Effective NICUs provide more than just services - they're designed in a way that contributes to the health of the infants being treated, says Mardelle Shepley, a Texas A&M University authority on health care facility design and environmental psychology.

Some of the benefits, she says, include infants conserving energy, improved ability by infants to manage their environment, growth, decreased respiratory support, decreased lung disease and decreased length of stay.

Designers of NICUs are taking into account things such as lighting, noise, and the physical layout of the facility, not only for the infants, but for the staff and families as well, Shepley explains.

Modifications to NICU environments can reduce stress among staff members by allowing them to better care for infants and their families, she notes. For example, an improved environment can enable nurses to spend more time engaging in patient and family support activities instead of walking around searching for supplies - an activity that previous research by Shepley identified as occupying a significant portion of nurses' time.

As it pertains to the infant, the intensive care unit should be designed in a way that fosters sleep opportunities because research suggests that sleep is critical to brain development, she notes. Visual and auditory stimulation should be controlled because these senses are less developed in infants than are other senses and are more susceptible to disruption.

"The future of evidenced-base design for infants and staff in NICUs is hopeful," Shepley notes. "The stage has been set to enable the design disciplines, the medical establishment and the academicians to work together to significantly improve the quality of life for infants, families and staff in neonatal intensive care units."

MEDICA.de; Source: Texas A&M University