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How to Effectively Set up Healthcare and Hospital Wayfinding

How to Effectively Set up Healthcare and Hospital Wayfinding


Wayfinding is probably not a word that comes up much in normal conversation. Although it's something you've experienced, without even knowing it.

When walking around a hospital, what are your anxiety levels like?

If a fluttering heart and sense of confusion are familiar to you in a healthcare setting, you're not alone. Many people struggle with medical-induced anxiety.

A sense of being lost in a clinical environment will only exacerbate anxiety. And this is where hospital wayfinding comes into the conversation.

To find out more about the importance of wayfinding in healthcare, read on.

What is Wayfinding?

You may wonder, what does wayfinding mean? Is not an uncommon question.

Wayfinding refers to the process or activity of ascertaining one's position and following a route. It also refers to the information system that guides people through an environment and enhances their understanding of the space.

This means that physical signs, arrows, noticeboards with information, maps, online and offline resources all come under the umbrella of wayfinding.

Hospital Wayfinding Woes

Most healthcare facilities are naturally complex environments. Adding to this is the increasingly decentralized ways hospitals are delivering care.

Patients will often have to navigate between a variety of different locations during the course of one hospital visit.

A feeling of disorientation only exacerbates an already anxiety-inducing situation. The frustration of being lost is ranked as one of the top complaints by healthcare facility visitors.

At first, patients blame themselves for their inability to find their way. However, frustration is quickly redirected to the hospital or organization. The negative impact on patient satisfaction, confidence, and trust is significant.

Wayfinding in Healthcare

Sometimes, facility planners opt to choose more signs as a solution to the problem of navigation in hospitals.

But research shows that adding more signs or more words in more areas can compound the problem. Signs alone are inadequate if they don't take into account the unique needs of the people who'll see them.

Healthcare wayfinding relies on a patient's ability to read and understand what they display.

An important challenge is to understand how a patient receives information about their upcoming appointment or procedure.

The process of setting up healthcare wayfinding should be well planned and managed. There are a number of factors to take into account to ensure the systems work for the patients and their visitors.

Without proper guidance, wayfinding systems won't succeed in their goal of streamlining navigation and improving customer experience.

Acrylic Signs from Image360

Integrated Wayfinding Systems

In line with this, healthcare providers are turning toward integrated wayfinding systems to assist visitor's journeys.

An idea of what this experience might entail is as follows:

An appointment reminder card is received including directions and links to a website with additional maps and departmental details.

Upon arrival, visitors see interactive digital maps and employees are trained to give directions in person.

These tools will be used in conjunction with traditional interior and exterior signage.

Evidence suggests that an effective wayfinding program includes physical elements, human interaction and online communications.

If these elements are integrated into wayfinding in hospitals, there are a variety of possible benefits.

Branding Benefits

Today, every industry is part of a competitive environment. Healthcare is no different.

Therefore, wayfinding in healthcare goes beyond functional necessity. It serves as a prime opportunity to differentiate and make a positive brand statement.

An effective wayfinding system means increased loyalty and trust. In line with this, patient experience assumes high status on healthcare's priority list.

A patient-centric approach is leading an increasing number of health facilities to invest in custom branded programs for wayfinding in healthcare.

Wayfinding in healthcare provides an ideal platform to visually communicate your organization's values and mission to connect with patients on a deeper level.

Savvy Savings

Hospitals vary in size, with staff counts as large as 5,000 members or more. This means that few will know the whole hospital and surrounding complex.

Without effective wayfinding, patients simply can't locate where they have an appointment, which is costing healthcare facilities money. Studies have revealed that poor wayfinding solutions and resulting lost patients cost hospitals thousands of dollars each year.

Enhance Patient Experience

If done right, wayfinding in healthcare should do more than just direct patients from one point to another. It should turn a frustrating ordeal into a smooth and engaging journey.

It should be a pillar of good patient experience.

Alleviating stress and maximizing efficiency are the main goals of a wayfinding system. A way of achieving this is to ensure a more unified experience between all parts. Namely: tech, staff and the environment.

Flexibility & Consistency

It's important to keep your design timeless. This means opting for timeless typefaces, icons and colors.

Avoiding fads is essential to avoid the need to frequently redesign elements.

The design should be easily adapted for the future and changing technology. The design should therefore be simple, flexible and logical and should allow you to grow as it does.

Cultural Sensitivity

Every healthcare facility will see a diverse group of patients.

So, it's essential that your wayfinding system should be inclusive, culturally acceptable and universally understandable.

To ensure a design will appeal to diverse populations, it's essential to put it through many different filters.

Multilingual signage has become standard, and California has even mandated multilingual care access. 

It is not just language that needs to be considered, but cultural customs and taboos as well. For example, a research team found that owls, which were part of the original design in a children's hospital, are harbingers of death in Native American culture. Of course, this is not a good choice.

ADA Signs from Image360ADA is NB

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) put forth a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

An important requirement of the act is that facilities open to the public must use ADA-compliant signage.

Inclusivity extends to those with different types of color blindness. Chosen color schemes should meet guidelines set forth in the ADA.

For children, it's also important for the animals and illustrations to appear both alone and in family groups. This is to increase sensitivity to different patient situations and perspectives.

Think about the Individual

The key idea here is to re-think tradition and tell a story.

In the past, most hospitals were split into several different zones with each assigned an 'identity' that had meaning or connection (a train, an elephant).

It's now recommended to split areas into fewer zones, with each having a meaningful signifier. For instance, a children's hospital could implement an educational, meaningful relationship between the zones based on the geography of a certain area for example forest, mountain, river and ocean.

The zones could have animals that would naturally be found within the theme. Salmon for the river, Rabbits for the forest etc. Incorporating a narrative into the illustrations is now valued. Especially if the narratives demonstrate empathy for the patients and families' situations.

Beacon Buzzwords

Hospital wayfinding continues to be complex and will require many different solutions to appeal to all users.

Although older patients are less likely to use a smartphone, many patients are increasingly technology-oriented.

Subsequently, many providers are turning to new technological solutions to solve problems while saving money and time.

Bluetooth beacons and QR codes are the new buzzwords when it comes to wayfinding. They're simple tools and are relatively easy to install and integrate into an app.

Make the Wayfinding Move

A comprehensive wayfinding and orientation program may appear simple. But its complexity and its impact on the visitor experience is significant.

It requires the collaboration of different stakeholders. The input from a company who has an acute understanding of behavioral patterns of users is essential.

There's no doubt, a multifaceted hospital wayfinding approach is the only way to go.

Please contact us to find out more about the solutions available to you. 

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