Lighting for Healthcare Environments

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

Here is the key to good design in any environment design with the end user in mind. In healthcare applications the users are many.

I spent all day in a hospital recently (as a visitor, not as a patient) where I made a few observations and had a few lighting conversations worth repeating. Before I go any further I want to acknowledge that design for healthcare environments is complicated. There are many different types of highly specialized and technical spaces.

But here is the key to good design in any environment: design with the end user in mind. In healthcare applications the “users” are many. Forgetting just one group during the design process can make a huge impact on the success of the final product.

So, who are the end users in a hospital?


When designing lighting for the patient, remember: they don’t feel well. Comfort is important. They are being wheeled all over the building in a bed while looking straight up at the ceiling. Have a heart. Avoid bare lamps and/or locate sources off to the side instead of down the middle of a hallway. Putting something interesting on the ceiling or pictures on the luminaires is a nice touch in areas where the patient might get bored. In patient rooms, give them as much control as possible. Provide a very low ambient light level option so they can have just a bit of light while they are dozing in and out of consciousness. Make it homey, not institutional. Provide a night-light. Avoid fixtures that flicker.


Hospitals can be confusing to visitors. Use the lighting to assist with wayfinding. Try putting certain kinds of fixtures in the hallways leading to elevators, or accenting signage with spotlights or wall washers. Consider using different decorative wall sconces on different floors.

In the patient rooms, provide a small task light so that visitors can read a book or do other tasks while the patient is sleeping.


Doctors need a high quality, high lumen output, instant on light source with great color rendering for examining patients. This light doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to provide shadow-free illumination on the task – in this case, the patient. It should be controlled separately from the other lights in the room, as it will not be comfortable for general illumination and will not be on except during an exam.

Other Medical Support Staff

Nurses and other care providers need a way of looking in on patients without disturbing them. Because of electronic charting, lights are no longer commonly required for charting, but a small task light is still useful for dosing medications, measuring fluids, and countless other tasks. It is important to have conversations with the staff during the design phase of the project to learn exactly how they plan to use the room and what their lighting needs are.

Another important consideration – especially for the night shift workers – is circadian light. Providing cool spectrum light increases alertness but may impact long-term health. Research on this issue continues, and it is important to keep an eye on this topic.

Facility Managers

Maintenance of lighting is disruptive to patients and to hospital operations. This is often a very convincing argument for the use of LED products in hospital patient areas. Long-life fluorescents are also appealing. Minimize the number of different lamp types in the facility. Keep color temperatures consistent for best results.


This group will be concerned about first costs, operating costs, and image. Providing an attractive facility brings people here instead of to the competitor across town. Exterior lighting can also play an important role in relaying a positive image to the community. All of the intangibles must be weighed against the actual costs of a lighting system, so keep your pencils sharpened and be ready to provide an economic analysis of every lighting design solution.

Providing a design that meets all of the disparate needs of the many facility users is key to a successful project. There are plenty of other activities (and people associated with them) in a hospital environment, too: cooking and cafeteria facilities, laundry, gift shops, surgery suites, intensive care units, and elevators. The list goes on.


Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


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