Use lighting to set the mood for
productivity and profits

Efficiency By Design

By Wayne Caverly

Imagine yourself sitting in a comfortable chair, with the lights low and Mozart, Bach (or your favourite soft music) playing in the background. Your heartbeat is slow and your breathing is light and regular. You feel good, you feel calm.

Suddenly, the lights are turned up; glaringly bright, with a red tinge. The music changes to rap and the temperature increases five degrees.

What do you suppose would happen to your mood? Not only will your mood change; but your heart will beat faster. You will become tense and edgy and will undoubtedly want to leave the room.

Such that is the power of our environment on our bodies and our psyche. Casino owners know this better than most. They make sure the lighting in casinos is tinted red, because they know that under red lights, the average person will take more chances. They also pump extra oxygen into the gaming areas to keep gamblers awake.

Your environment affects you immensely. The colour of the walls, the music being played and other noises you hear, the temperature and humidity levels, all these things not only affect your state of mind, but your performance, as well.

Over the next few months, we will be discussing these design elements and the impact they have on your staff and patients. These factors are important not simply because they’ll make your staff and patients happier (although with the current pharmacist shortage, making your staff happy is more important then ever). Their importance goes beyond happiness and impacts both your bottom line and your liabilities.

Let’s start with lighting. Research has shown that changes in lighting can substantially affect performance and dispensary error rates. How much lighting is enough? Can you have too much light?

In the 1950s, one company increased the lighting on their assembly line and witnessed a 32% decrease in their accident rate. Another factory doubled light levels and found that production rose 5% and the number of rejections fell significantly. The result: total costs fell by 25%. Management didn’t stop there; they doubled the lighting levels again, and this time production rose 10.5% (above original levels) while costs were down almost 40%.

Can we apply this to pharmacy? In 1991, the American Journal of Hospital Pharmacy released the results of a study in which three different levels of illumination were tested for their impact on dispensing errors. By quadrupling the illumination levels, the investigators reported a 32% reduction in error rates.

Is this significant? Let’s do the math. If you fill 100 prescriptions a day (36500/year), a 1.2% reduction represents 438 less errors in the course of a year. And even if all your errors are caught and corrected (and most are: One study reported 89% of all errors committed in the pharmacy are discovered during patient counselling), the 438 fewer errors represent significant cost savings. It’s generally agreed that the average labour cost to fill a prescription in North American retail pharmacy is $4. This means that even if they were discovered and re-filled, the 438 errors represent between $1,700 and $3,000 a year in additional labour costs.

How do you find out what your lighting levels are, and where they should be? There is, no single easy answer. Not only does it take different lighting levels to perform different tasks (data entry, product locating, counting, verification) but too much lighting can be as bad as too little. Excessive lighting levels produce glare, troublesome reflections, deep shadows and excessive contrasts. The result: headaches and fatigue in your employees, resulting in lower productivity and increased errors.

A competent pharmacy design firm has the tools necessary to measure lighting levels throughout your dispensary as well as the knowledge of what levels you should be striving for.

Some informed decisions about the use of lighting could make a big difference in the productivity, profitability–and yes, the mood–in your pharmacy.

Excerpted from The Efficient Pharmacy: by Design (a work in progress). Wayne Caverly is president, BakerAPS Canada and its pharmacy design division AutoPharm. He is also executive director of The Efficient Pharmacy Institute, senior editor of The Efficient Pharmacy newsletter and a contributing author to the Pharmacy Management in Canada textbook (2nd edition, 1998). ©Copyright 1999 Wayne Morgan Caverly.