5 Ways the Environment Can Impact Patient Health
As a healthcare professional, especially if you work in hospitals, you’ll see doctors and nurses mainly dealing with the acute issues at hand, but what about the reason your patients are coming into your institution in the first place? You might not be surprised to hear that health is about much more than the presentation of a cough or a disease. The environment that a person lives in is a critical part of their health as well.
Here are a few ways that environmental factors can impact health:
Parks & Open Space
People who live near green areas, whether it’s a park or simply an open area to walk around, have a huge advantage when it comes to staying healthy. For one, being able to access open space easily is encouragement to exercise, and exercise has a variety of health benefits. It improves our body’s resilience and our mental strength as well.
But even being able to look at trees has advantages, such as healing faster after surgery, or being able to concentrate better on homework. We’re probably only starting to realize the extent to which humans do better when surrounded by greenery.
Your environment isn’t just about the natural features around you. It also relates to manmade resources. And what’s a place that pretty much everyone has to go at some point during the month? The grocery store. When it comes to the impact of food and diet on health, the studies are practically endless. But the one thing that can be said for sure is that what we eat can have a powerful effect on our health outcomes.
In one study of women who had gestational diabetes, those who had the healthiest diets were 20 to 30 percent less likely to develop hypertension than the ones who had the worst diets, after adjusting for confounding variables. For a completely different example, you can look at the importance of fiber in the diet. It’s necessary for proper bowel health, but has benefits for blood sugar levels and blood cholesterol levels as well.
Air is an important factor in health, because it’s everywhere. Living in an area of poor air quality can have lifelong negative impacts. One study showed that women who were exposed to even low amounts of air pollution during their pregnancy have a higher risk of premature births and adverse health consequences for their newborn children compared to other women.
That’s a scary fact, given that there are so many different kinds of air pollutants. We can be affected by the output of cars or nearby factories and refineries, just to name a couple of examples. In fact, fifty percent of Americans live in a community with “unhealthy levels of particle pollution.” In addition to children, elderly individuals often struggle with high levels of air pollution.
In Tacoma, Washington, tests recently revealed lead in the water of several school buildings, and the situation set off a huge alarm. Why? Because water quality is another health factor that can’t be overlooked. The water we drink is a source of potentially harmful ingredients, and as such we have to take necessary precautions. Washington isn’t the only place that has seen lead scares over the past few years. Knox County in Illinois has also seen abnormally high levels of lead in children, spurring local officials to take action.
Similar issues can come to light in the issue of housing quality. For example, harmful lead is sometimes present in homes. Additionally, dampness, bad ventilation, and unclean floors can lead to pest infestations or situations that trigger asthma within a household. And old housing or housing that is not up to code could be the source of dangerous falls, especially among children and the elderly.
Having an understanding of the environmental factors that shape health outcomes will make you a better hospital administrator, because you will know more about why patients are visiting your institution. You will also better recognize what resources and tools the healthcare professionals in your institution need to do their job more successfully.