Colour affects all aspects of care, from diagnosis to recovery Image

Colour affects all aspects of care, from diagnosis to recovery

The power of colour to transform the healthcare environment is no longer in contention but an accepted fact. Studies have shown that it can affect a patient’s perception of their care and can enhance their feeling of wellbeing. But there’s more...

In a paper entitled, “Transforming the healing environment: Choosing colours and products that make a difference for patients”, paint specialist Dulux explains how colour can aid the healing process.

When looking at the impact of certain colours, research shows that orange stimulates the appetite, while blue can suppress it. Positive applications for this include dining rooms in mental health facilities where people with anorexia are treated. However, the significant impact of colour psychology is further enhanced when we note that, as well as stimulating appetite, orange also stimulates mental activity; so it would need to be avoided in mental health units where patients have more intense psychological conditions.

Other findings include the association of yellow with joy and happiness, intellect and energy. So often it is the gender-neutral colour choice for a child’s nursery; but it is, in fact, shown to make babies cry more. Red, is another example — while energetic and powerful, it is thought to raise blood pressure, so would not be recommended for use in a cardiac unit.

Making the right choice for your setting

The Dulux research specifies three separate healthcare areas: public, patient accommodation, and treatment rooms. In all three, it suggests a softer, neutral colour palette with accent colours chosen for interest and impact.

There is also a place for colour in assisting navigation and wayfinding. Long corridors can be divided, with a range of colours being used for directional purposes or to identify different departments. Reception areas can be identified through the use of a strong accent colour, in order to make them stand out.

In children’s wards a combination palette can be used, with accent colours creating fun and vibrancy, alongside clear and unsophisticated colours designed to reduce anxiety and confusion. 

Research has also shown colour contrast to be very effective in reducing falls and spills in dementia settings. Here, contrasting colours are vital in helping with cognitive and perception problems. For example, by specifying a toilet seat in a shade 30% different to the rest of the toilet, patients could see where to sit, thus avoiding trips and spills.

It is perhaps not surprising to read that ITC units benefit from neutral tones when creating  a calm, restful environment. But, operating theatres, which also rely on calm unflappability, require a very specific colour palette of cool or muted green or blue/green. The thinking here is that, because green is the complimentary colour of red, it can neutralise the visual image of the open wound retained in a surgeon’s eye following an intensive period of concentration.

Colour and diagnosis

As well as affecting mood and recovery, colour can also impact diagnosis. Reflection from yellow or blue surfaces can make it more difficult to observe babies with liver disease, who present with yellowing of the skin, and patients with low oxygen levels who display blue or purple skin colouration. So, it is suggested that consultation rooms employ warm, neutral colours, with accent colours only where such visual diagnosis does not take place.

So, we can see that the use of colour is a key component, rather than an afterthought, in creating a positive healthcare setting. And that something as seemingly benign as the colour of a wall or a wardrobe can bring significant benefits. To quote Sarah Waller of the King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Healing Environment programme:

“A tin of coloured paint doesn’t cost any more than traditional magnolia, but the effect it has is significant."

Watch the video below to see how our colour matching assisted Newham University Hospital's new Rainbow Children's Centre (opened February 2017)

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