Mardelle Shepley, a professor of architecture at Texas A&M, says properly designed NICUs can potentially result in a number of health-related benefits for the infants in them, but the design of NICUs should be handled appropriately because these infants are exceedingly vulnerable. 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.
"Conscientious architects are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of design decisions on the sensory environment of the neonatal intensive care unit," Shepley says. "Since the first symposium on health care design in 1988, the notion of creating healing environments has evolved from a tangential, subjective design consideration to an intervention based on science."
In other words, 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.