Clinic Design as Placebo-Using Design to Promote Healing and Support Treatments

Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Nov 9;7(4):77. doi: 10.3390/bs7040077.


Analogously to the medical placebo effect, people seem to anticipate the quality of treatments based on external stimuli. In order to gain insights on the effect the built environment can have on a person's judgments and behavior with a particular focus on health related issues, a quantitative survey (N = 851) with four groups before and after the renovation of a rehabilitation clinic has been conducted. In line with an overall modernization of the clinic, the entrance, the lobby, and some patient rooms have been changed. In the lobby, a service counter and coffee bar have been added as well as light colors and new flooring material to achieve a more modern and clean atmosphere in the sense of aesthetical appearance of the space. The outcome revealed that patients rate the intention to change their health behavior as well as the quality of food or significantly higher in a modernized clinic. These differences cannot be directly attributed solely to the changes in the building. Analogously to the medical placebo, an effect referred to as design placebo effect is, therefore, proposed to explain improved ratings of aspects that have not directly been changed due to the intervention. Other significant effects are attributable to winter and summer climate. During summer time, ratings for waiting area, atmosphere, patient rooms, as well as for staff were significantly higher. It is, therefore, assumed that aesthetic attributes, such as architectural design, or friendliness of the weather, exert their effects as perceptual placebos that directly influence judgment outcomes and behavioral intentions. Further research is needed to match certain design and general environmental features to their effects on patients and investigate their effect strength.

Keywords: concept priming; design research; embodiment; empirical design research; evidence-based design; health behavior; placebo effect; psycho-socially supportive design; salutogenic design; self-efficacy.