Designing the Balance between Privacy and Visibility

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When designing hospital patient rooms, it is difficult to find the delicate balance between privacy and visibility. Patients often complain of feeling overexposed, causing them to lose their sense of dignity. Alternatively, too much privacy can isolate the patient, resulting in feelings of loneliness - while also compromising patient safety by blocking important visibility for staff.

Patient privacy became less of an issue when single-bed rooms were introduced into hospital settings. However, arguments sprang for the concern of patient loneliness. Adolescent patients, known to crave companionship, would feel too isolated and the cries for help by the elderly might go unheard by nurses who were stationed a corridor's length away.

Humans are a social species, so when we cannot interact with other people, that loneliness greatly affects our health and wellbeing. Prolonged feelings of loneliness disrupt our hormone levels and alter our gene expressions. This combination increases stress and aging on the body which in turn, can impair cognitive performance, weaken the immune system, and increase the chances of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke. Alternatively, a 2010 Brigham Young University study found that strong social relationships increase a person's likelihood of survival by 50% compared to those with weaker social relationships.

Loneliness is reportedly high amongst all ages but as we age, more of us fall into isolation and our risk of falling ill due to loneliness increases as well. In 2012, Dr. Perissinotto (University of California, San Francisco) studied the health effects of loneliness in adults over the age of 60. Out of the 1,604 total participants, the 43% that reported feelings of loneliness had significantly higher rates of declining mobility and difficulty performing daily routines. Tragically, in the 6 years of follow-up, the group experiencing loneliness had a significantly higher rate of death as well. 

Ironically, when people turn into patients, they crave privacy, no matter their age. The desire for privacy is understandably so - once a patient enters a healthcare facility, they lose their independence and give up all control to healthcare staff.  In a study regarding dignity in acute care settings, surveyed patients listed that loss of control over their individual privacy was a key component to a patient's compromised sense of dignity.

Multiple studies show that patients want privacy 3 different ways - privacy regarding their body, privacy of their environment and privacy when they receive sensitive, personal information. Typically, cubicle curtains are used as a "solution" for privacy concerns, though they certainly do not address all 3 layers of privacy. These curtains, known to harbor contact contaminants, offer little sound protection and are often left open by visiting physicians, exposing patients when they are at their most physically and emotionally vulnerable. 

If patient rooms addressed all 3 desired layers of privacy, they run the risk of closing off the patient too much. In a story similar to the creation of the CAMA Bed Chair, the designers at CAMA wanted to create a product solution that addressed the necessary balance between privacy and visibility. Together with glass manufacturer, Skyline Design, they developed glass privacy screens with organic patterning approaches that allows for controlled calibration of visibility as well as clean-ability. The screens serve as a more hygienic alternative to the outdated cubicle curtain and can combat loneliness through patterning, creating more of an illusion of privacy than real isolation.

Click here to learn more about the "CAMAflage" privacy screens by Skyline Design