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Background Children's’ hospitals are by definition hospitals specialized in all aspects of children's care, but are they and if so, how is that achieved? Are healthcare facilities more than a ‘space’ in which to ask medical questions, seek answers and obtain treatment? Some suggest that the very design of a space can positively or negatively impact healing, hence the term referred to by those in the architectural community as ‘healing spaces’. To date empirical studies to provide evidence to this effect, although growing in number, are still few. What is known is that hospitals, doctor's offices and dental offices alike unintentionally create an atmosphere, particularly for children, that add to an already heightened level of anxiety and fear. Designing a children's hospital, unlike a generalist facility, presents a unique and significant challenge. Those involved in designing such hospitals are faced with the opportunity and responsibility to care for and respond to the needs of children across the age spectrum; infants to toddlers, school aged children to adolescents. As healthcare professionals and architects, it is our responsibility to create healthcare facilities that are of purposeful design; anticipating and alleviating children's anxiety and fear wherever possible.Objectives The objective of this systematic review is to evaluate the effects of environmental design strategies in healthcare institutions such as hospitals and dental offices on event-related anxiety in the paediatric population.Inclusion Criteria This comprehensive systematic review involved children from the age of 1 to 18 years of age admitted to a healthcare facility with the primary outcomes of interest being four key design strategies: positive distraction; elimination of environmental stressors; access to social support and choice (control); and connection to nature.Search Strategy Using the Joanna Briggs defined three step search strategy, both published and unpublished studies were sought from the period of 1980 to 2010.Methods of the Review Data for each study was extracted and assessed by two independent reviewers for methodological validity prior to inclusion in the review using the Joanna Briggs Institute standardised critical appraisal instruments for Qualitative data (JBI-QARI) and for the Meta Analysis of Statistics Assessment (JBI-MAStARI).Results Twenty studies were reviewed, seven of a descriptive experimental design, three of mixed methodologies and thirteen of various qualitative research design methodologies inclusive of Observational, Grounded Theory, Ethnography and Phenomenology.Conclusions The design of the built environment does have the ability to impact either positively or negatively the level of anxiety and fear that children experience when exposed to a healthcare setting. The coping strategies engaged by and unique to each paediatric age group need to not only be understood but supported and reflected in the built environment.Implications for research Architects and healthcare researchers need to collaborate to establish a solid base of evidence related to this important area of interest. Irrespective of the challenges that researchers face in attempting to randomise, manipulate and control the numerous environmental variables that impact a question such as this, such challenges need not, nor should not, prevent or discourage future research. An innovative solution to the challenges faced by researchers in this field is the use of computer modelling and/ or simulation of the hospital environment. Through the use of simulated environments researchers can directly observe user preferences and/ physiological responses.Implication for practice This review highlights an insightful look into the preferences of children as consumers. Although sample sizes were small and results were not quantified in measurable outcomes, the ability for such studies to inform design should not be underestimated. Design strategies both from a practical perspective of minimal cost to construction projects warranting extensive resources are discussed.