Immersive Calmness is a multimedia waiting experience designed to reduce stress and panic in hospital emergency rooms through positive distractions and reproducible technology. This solution was designed for Australian hospital, Cabrini Health in collaboration with Monash University’s ‘Design Health Collab’.
Working as a design researcher for Monash University’s research lab called ‘Design Health Collab’, I led the creation of a solution to improve the waiting experience at Cabrini Health’s emergency room. I conceptualised, prototyped and pitched the solution to the team at Cabrini Health. Upon approval and receiving funding, I continued the research with my team at Design Health Collab and mentored a group of design students to implement the project while working closely with engineers to build it.
Waiting at a hospital emergency room can be stressful; filled with anticipation, pain and boredom. Children especially are more anxious due to exposure to unfamiliar situations.
My team and I visited the emergency room multiple times observing patients and staff as discreetly as possible. We learned a lot about human behaviour in doing this activity and realised the challenge we needed to address was patients and their loved ones getting overwhelmed while waiting for their turn or information.
When people start panicking, their nervous system enters a mode called 'fight, flight and freeze' which causes their body to tighten up and breathing to become erratic.
The challenge was simply to help patients feel calm and composed and in turn help staff have better control over the workings of the day.
I was inspired by meditation and deep breathing. Having practiced yoga and deep-breathing myself, I knew the benefits it provided in helping people stay centred. Taking a few deep breaths induces an opposite nervous reaction called 'relaxation response' that helps to calm oneself down.
After several weeks of trial and error and working with the stakeholders and other researchers, I was finally able to work out a strategy and solution. Using multimedia design, my team and I created an environment of positive distractions and immersive calmness to help patients and staff deal with the anxiety.
For the technology, I was took a page from the science behind MBSR. MBSR uses meditation based psychotherapy to reduce stress where in there is a release of tension and inflow of self awareness.
And so, reproducible technology can be used for safe and effective relief from stress-related situations like anxiety, depression or insomnia.
The solution is a visual experience built to induce a state of relaxation through active or passive engagement. Large media walls displaying animations present a state of mindful meditation through guided breathing exercises and calming nature sounds.
The animations were in sync with the rhythm of breathing. Visual imagery with specific entrancing movements can draw in attention and subconsciously motivate people to breathe in and out deeply by syncing in with the rhythm of the animations.
The goal is to focus on breathing. The consistent, deep breathing patterns of ‘stabilising meditation’ in particular aims at bringing one back to equilibrium.
Why do emergency rooms need such an immersive experience?
Relaxation takes time. Reactions like alertness are immediate, but calmness has to be built over a period of time. To bring about relaxation, it requires engagement and participation from people. This visual experience is built to induce a state of relaxation through active or passive engagement.
‘Immersive Calmness’ helps patients, their loved ones and the emergency room staff focusing on the present moment. It encourages a shift from negative experiences to positive consciousness with the help of mindful meditation.
Large media walls in the emergency room present animations that encourage people to breathe in and out deeply, which in turn causes an inflow of awareness and helps them stay calm and centred. The meditative state is mindful, so people can voluntarily engage and interact with the experience the way they want and for the duration they desire. This means that they are aware of the surroundings and can pay attention to instructions when required.
Children also have a unique experience to keep them engaged. The themes of their animations are less about breathing but more about positive distractions and learning in the form of cartoon characters.
Below you see the prototypes of the solution I designed. The actual animations that would go on the media screens were designed by a group of students that I mentored. The installation of the experience has been stalled due to Covid-19. I hope to share the live experience in the coming months.
Here is a prototype I created of the animations that play on the media walls. This is for the adults to engage in voluntary deep breathing.