Do Spas Belong on Hospital Campuses?

When you think of the term “health spa,” you probably envision a facility that is only tangentially related to evidence-based medicine. Perhaps there are mud baths on the premises, or a place to receive a deep tissue massage. There may be restaurants that serve only the healthiest, most wholesome foods; perhaps there are more traditional vacation activities like golf and tennis available. Above all else, the experience is designed to be relaxing — and, incidentally, very expensive.

Another type of health spa exists, however, and it is increasingly popular with traditional hospital systems. The rise of this type of spa leads many in the health community to ask pointed questions about the role spa-like facilities do and should play on hospital campuses.

Spa Services in the Maternity Ward

The Boston Globe reports on one of the most common hospital spa settings: the maternity ward. Though the configuration varies from hospital to hospital, maternity spas generally feature a range of services typically found in private day or residential spas:

  • Acupuncture
  • Pressure-point massages
  • Aromatherapy rooms
  • Jacuzzi tubs
  • “Mood rooms” with ambient music and lighting

According to the Globe, these features have two main purposes. First, they are packaged as a fringe benefit for discerning mothers-to-be. When new mothers “shop around” for the right maternity ward, the thinking is that they will be drawn to hospitals that pamper them during what is typically a stressful although joyous period.

Secondly, spa services serve to distract and entertain mothers-to-be and their families, keeping them close in the event of unexpected or emergent labor and managing their emotional needs.

Cancer Treatment and Other Facilities

Maternity wards are not the only hospital settings in which spa services are prevalent. Some specialized treatment facilities, including residential facilities for the treatment and palliative management of later-stage cancers, include spa-like facilities that keep residents comfortable and occupied during what may well be the last months of their lives. For patients these services provide emotional support and distraction during treatment, therapy and recovery.

It is also worth noting that long-term care facilities, addiction treatment centers and other residential facilities often have spa services. As with cancer treatment facilities, these institutions cater to patients who require far more than stabilization and acute care; residency periods at long-term care facilities can stretch for years. At this end of the spectrum, the term “hospital” may no longer be adequate; “spa” or “home” may truly be a better descriptor.

The Future of Hospital Spas

As with many current trends affecting the medical field, it is not yet clear how the concept of “hospital spas” will evolve over time. However, it is certainly fair to bet that they will continue to play some sort of role in a healthcare system that increasingly values patient-centered care, positive outcomes and family support. Holistic approaches to health care are being increasingly accepted as mainstream. Those who work at and use these facilities should feel as if their jobs and routines are secure, at least for the time being.