For as long as we can remember, hospitals and healthcare facilities have been using incandescent and fluorescent light fixtures to illuminate patient rooms, offices, hallways, bathrooms, etc. These lights have been the go-to because of their output, cost, and availability. What hospital facility managers fail to realize is that incandescent and fluorescent lights aren’t dependable and can have many negative effects on patients. When it comes to hospital lighting, LED light bulbs and fixtures are the best alternatives for many reasons.
Color Temperatures and Circadian Rhythm
LED lights are available in several shades of white. These shades are referred to as a bulb’s correlated color temperature (CCT). CCT is measured in Kelvin (K), which is similar to degrees in Celsius. Different temperatures on the Kelvin scale represent different colors. For example, light at 2000K-3500K looks more orange/yellow and is called ultra warm or warm white, and as temperature increases in Kelvins, color changes to more of a “paper white” known as natural or neutral white (between 3500K and 5000K) and finally into a bluish-white known as cool white (5100K-20000K).
Throughout the day, light changes from a warm white color at dawn to natural white then to a cool white in the afternoon, back to natural white, and eventually to an ultra warm white color at sunset. Our bodies are used to this cycle of light. Artificial lights that deviate from the natural lighting cycle can throw off our circadian rhythms. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, states that, “Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.”
According to healthybuildingscience.com “. . . different types of light trigger different physiological effects. Blue/white light, akin to a bright midday light, suppresses melatonin and increases serotonin, this light is great for activity. Conversely red/orange light triggers melatonin in preparation for going to sleep. If everything is in balance, the body will generate dopamine, serotonin, cortisol and melatonin in the right quantities at the right time of day.” Various researchers have found that when circadian rhythms are off, anything from sleeping disorders to irritability and illness can occur.
In hospitals and health care centers, it’s important that patients and staff have access to cool white light that’s similar to daylight. Dr. Anajali Joseph, director of research for the Center of Health Design, writes, “Several studies have documented the importance of light in reducing depression, decreasing fatigue, improving alertness, modulating circadian rhythms, and treating conditions such as hyperbilirubinemia among infants. Further, the presence of windows in the workplace and access to daylight have been linked with increased satisfaction with the work environment.” Windows are the best method of accessing daylight, but cool white LED lights along with the right color temperatures at the right times, can have the same effect on the body.
Warmer color temperatures lead to the release of melatonin, which causes drowsiness. This is appropriate during bedtime hours, but causes problems for those who need to stay awake, such as overnight nurses and doctors. Introducing natural or cool white light to hallways, operating rooms, and nurse stations can help hospital staff, especially overnight workers, feel more alert and energetic.
No Health Risks
Fluorescent lights contain mercury that can be released if a bulb breaks. Mercury is toxic and can be harmful if absorbed through skin or inhaled. To reduce the risk of harm, the EPA has a list of cleanup procedures, such as having everyone leave the room, opening a doors or windows, shutting off heat and air-conditioning systems, and other specific instructions.
Fluorescent and incandescent bulbs also emit low doses of UV radiation that can damage not only facility materials but can also damage skin and eyes. According to a study published in PubMed Central® (PMC) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, “Chronic, low-dose UV exposure can cause cumulative skin damage.” An article on CBSLA.com discusses the results of another study that had similar findings. In this article, it is said that, “. . . exposure to the (fluorescent) bulbs could lead to premature aging and cancer.”
Continued UV exposure is also harmful to the eyes. A study published in PMC about fluorescent lighting and eye health states that, “Fluorescent lighting may increase UV-related eye diseases by up to 12% and, according to our calculations, may cause an additional 3,000 cases of cataracts and 7,500 cases of pterygia annually in Australia.” The possibilities of eye and skin damage are significant factors to consider for a facility whose purpose is to heal.
LEDs contain no mercury, and unless they’re specifically UV bulbs, they emit very little to no UV radiation. These factors alone make them a better choice for health care facilities. Not to mention that—unlike fluorescent bulbs—LED lights won’t flicker or emit any color spikes. Color fluctuations and flicker can cause negative effects, such as headaches and dizziness. When used for hospital lighting, LED bulbs and fixtures can improve overall health and eliminate the possibility of additional health risks posed by fluorescent and incandescent bulbs.
CRI and Staff Performance
Seeing colors as they truly are is critical in health care environments. Inaccurate color rendering of skin or blood could lead to a misdiagnosis or failure to see signs of infection or jaundice. LED lights with high color-rendering indexes (CRIs) can ensure that colors are seen accurately. CRI involves a distinct testing method with comparisons to incandescent light or daylight. A light source with a CRI close to 100 shows colors very similarly to how incandescent light or daylight shows those same colors. Fluorescent lights have a range in the lower 60s and below, and LED CRIs can range from 70 to 98.
The spectral graph below can be helpful in understanding the advantage of high-CRI light sources. Lights with a low CRI will show fewer colors while high-CRI lights cover more of the spectrum. A light source’s ability to show more colors increases its accuracy in revealing the true colors of people, objects, and surroundings.
FreemanWhite, a health-care-focused design firm reports, “. . .light fixtures with a high CRI . . . help caregivers assess rashes, lesions, and skin pigmentation.” They go on to say, “In the interest of avoiding liability claims, better lighting quality can enhance a caregiver’s ability to diagnose correctly, identify reactions, prevent secondary infections, and minimize readmissions.” High-CRI LED lights can also help prevent medication errors.
Many LED lights are dimmable, which makes them great for hospital settings and individual patient needs. Color-changing RGB LED lights are also available as well as variable color temperature LED products. These types of lights can be useful in MRI or CT scan rooms to calm patients by creating a relaxing atmosphere or giving them something to focus on. As previously discussed, color temperatures have some control over how our bodies function. Dr. Anajali Joseph writes, “By controlling the circadian system, light—both natural and artificial—impacts many health outcomes among patients and staff in hospitals such as depression, sleep, circadian rest-activity rhythms, as well as length of stay in the hospital.”
Another method of LED hospital lighting control is the use of occupancy sensors. These sensors will save money beyond those that result from reduced energy consumption. Sensors will also extend the life span of bulbs and fixtures even further by turning them off when no one is in the area. These sensors are best suited for low-traffic areas.
Life Span and Running Temperature
LED lights are designed to last approximately 25-42 times longer than incandescent bulbs and five times longer than fluorescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. In a large health care facility of hospital, time is of the essence. Every minute of downtime from burnt-out bulbs means less productivity and more maintenance costs. For example, burnt-out bulbs in MRI and CT scanner rooms can cost a hospital thousands of dollars for every hour that is lost. Costs aren’t just limited to paying maintenance workers to change out bulbs and paying doctors and technicians for their time. Downtime in these rooms also results in a loss of productivity and delays in patient diagnosis.
When hospital lighting goes out, many things can be affected. Surgeons and nurses need adequate lighting to properly care for patients. When lights go out, it opens the door for mistakes, puts patients at risk, and wastes valuable time. LED hospital lighting not only reduces downtime and maintenance costs, but it also dramatically reduces energy costs.
Another benefit of using LED lights in hospitals is their minimal heat emission. In operating rooms, it’s important that surgeons and nurses be comfortable. Working under hot lights increases the risk of mistakes during an operation and can dry out a patient’s exposed tissue.
With all the research that’s been done on hospital lighting and the benefits and advantages of LED lights, it’s easy to see why they’re the best choice for health care facilities. Not only do they provide the color temperatures, color-rendering indexes, and controllability that hospitals need, they also save money and cause less interruptions to patient care. Just one hospital switching to LED lights can have a dramatic impact on patient health, staff satisfaction, and the environment.