Healthcare News & Insights

Why it’s important to make your hospital easy for patients to navigate

Making your hospital’s layout easier to navigate can improve the patient experience.

178913481Hospitals can be confusing settings for patients and their families. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal spells out why this is the case.

Often when hospitals expand, they don’t think of how confusing it can be for patients and visitors. Sometimes after a hospital remodels or adds on an extension, signs aren’t replaced or are ambiguous. This means visitors are directed down hallways that don’t go anywhere or stairwells to the wrong floor.

Even if the way to a particular department is labeled correctly, the use of medical terminology on signage can overwhelm patients. Example: Parents taking their child in for tonsil surgery may not understand what the otolaryngology department is.

Helping patients find their way

To solve these problems, many hospitals have started paying attention to “wayfinding,” a design concept referring to how people navigate through public buildings.

According to the WSJ article, hospitals are using strategies typically found in airports and shopping malls to make it easier for patients to find their way to the right departments.  From the article, here are a few examples of what they’ve been trying:

  • Clearer signage. Instead of directing patients to otolaryngology, signs now say “Ear, Nose & Throat” department
  • Interactive technology. The Cleveland Clinic has developed interactive kiosks that let visitors map out their destination. Similar to a GPS device, users can print out directions or have them sent to a smartphone.
  • Prominent landmarks. MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston installed a large tree sculpture as a reference point to help visitors find their way to various departments.
  • Greeters and escorts. The University of Pennsylvania Health System hired three full-time greeters to meet patients at each level of its parking garage and help them find their destination. Other hospitals use student interns as escorts.
  • Color coding. Many hospitals are using different colors for each department so patients can quickly tell where they are. Kaiser Permanente has large, color-coded banners hanging over each department: blue for the main hospital, red for the ED, green for administration and yellow for parking.
  • Symbols and pictures. Rather than using different colors, other facilities are using pictures to help visitors find their way, such as a teddy bear to represent the pediatrics department.

Whatever system hospitals choose to make visitor wayfinding easier, it needs to be consistent throughout the hospital, and it should be clear to patients what the directions mean. And all staffers should also be familiar with the system so they can help if a visitor flags them down with questions.

For more info on improving wayfinding in your hospital, The Center for Health Design, an organization where healthcare and design pros work together to improve healthcare facilities, has in-depth research on the wayfinding process.

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