How Nature Scenes Lower Stress in Healthcare Settings

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Ernesto Rodriguez by Ernesto Rodriguez

My epiphany happened in the redwood forest of northern California while sitting, waiting to photograph the filtered sunlight that illuminates the trees.   As I waited for the light, my thoughts drifted to visiting a friend in the hospital shortly before leaving on this trip.  Just the thought of the institutional sterile blank hospital room made me tense.  As I looked around at the mammoth trees and listened to the sound of the creek, the tension slowly receded.  I remember thinking, “Why can’t hospitals feel like being in the Redwoods?  Then the thought occurred, “If the curtains that surround the patient bed have a Redwoods scene, will it have the same calming effect that I am feeling now?”

This thought triggered a sequence of coincidences that included coming across Roger Ulrich’s seminal study in 1984 “ View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery”, finding vendors to produce curtain prototypes, and meeting Jane Malkin who gave me guidance on how to achieve a finished product.  In 2002, we launched Sereneview hospital curtains featuring nature landscape photos and were recognized with The Center for Health Design’s Nightingale award for most innovative new product.  Over the past thirteen years Sereneview has been recognized by NeoCon’s Buildings Magazine 2008, Healthcare Design Magazine 2011, and the 2012 Spirit of Planetree Award for advancing patient-centered care.


Sereneview Ceiling

Guided imagery is a practice that is taught in nursing schools as a way to lower stress. The curtains, now installed in over 1,000 hospitals worldwide, embody this practice and have become a tool to engage and shift patient focus.

Evidence supporting patient-centered care concepts continues to emerge.  In 2008, a group of scientists using fMRI brain imaging verified the 40+ years of research that links viewing landscape photos with lowering stress.   The fMRI shows the release of serotonin in the brain when we view nature images as briefly as 1/100th of a second.  Serotonin is the happy hormone that lowers stress and increases the pain threshold.

The latest research from Clemson University, published in Sept. 2014, again underscores the existing scientific literature “Nature Scenes Can Promote Hospital Patient Healing”.

The NEJM’s recent study on Post-Hospital Syndrome-An Acquired, Transient Condition of Generalized Risk outlines how immune systems are compromised by the stress of a hospital stay.

Last, but not least, the Blue Cross 2013 study of 200,000 patients documents that patient-centered care strategies increase profits by four percent.

Despite the preponderance of scientific evidence linking nature vistas with lowered stress and the financial return of patient-centered care strategies, hospitals have been slow to accept and implement ways to lower stress for patients, as well as staff.  Perhaps linking HCAHPS and patient satisfaction to reimbursement will start the conversation…moving healthcare forward.

Ernesto Rodriguez has worked as a professional artist/photographer for the past 30 years. He holds an M.S. degree in Counseling Psychology and has served as a school psychologist to State Department assisted schools. From 1980-1988 he provided psychological services at schools in Colombia and Saudi Arabia. In 1988 he founded Ernesto Rodriguez Photography, which provides photography services to clients in the oil and gas, maritime, construction, and transportation industries.

Since 1997 Ernesto has been an Adjunct Professor of Photography, teaching digital impressionism at Webster University in The Netherlands. Ernesto’s fine art works are published and distributed to galleries nationwide by New Era Portfolio in Austin, Texas and is a contributing artist to Healing Photo Art. His works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. On the cutting-edge of visual technology, it was Ernesto’s inspiration that lead to the creation of Catalina Curtain Company, Inc. in 2002.


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One Response to How Nature Scenes Lower Stress in Healthcare Settings

  1. Beth Boynton, RN, MS says:

    What a great idea, Ernie. Thank you so much for sharing your story behind it and the research. I can imagine therapeutic elements for patients and staff. Enhancing privacy, peace, connection while decreasing anxiety.

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