Have you ever visited an unfamiliar place, and yet you managed to find your way around? You can credit good wayfinding for that.
Wayfinding can be defined as a visual system of communication in an outdoor environment or inside a building which helps a person know where his exact location is and where his intended destination is.
Wayfinding is an invaluable tool in different environments, especially in hospitals.
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The importance of wayfinding in hospitals
When patients and their loved ones visit hospitals and similar institutions, they are usually in a state of distress and anxiety. Adding the burden of finding their way around inside these places can multiply the negative emotions they are currently experiencing, leaving them more frustrated.
And it’s not just the patients that are affected by a poor wayfinding system. When patients cannot find their way around inside a healthcare environment, they have no other recourse but ask around for directions and help. This can affect hospital staff who might be disrupted and distracted from their primary healthcare duties, adversely affecting their productivity.
In an ideal scenario, an effective healthcare wayfinding system not only guides patients to their intended destinations. More than that, a wayfinding system should empower patients and provide them with a positive experience. These goals can be achieved through the principle called progressive disclosure.
In progressive disclosure, the right amount of information is revealed, just enough to get a person to the next decision-making point. Progressive disclosure prevents information overload, which can overwhelm a person. Or, as the adage goes, less is more.
Common challenges in designing wayfinding systems in hospitals
Apart from the anxiety and distress of patients, there are a few challenges that wayfinding systems should overcome.
One of the first challenges is the size of the facility. The bigger the facility, the more overwhelming it can be for first-time visitors.
Further compounding this issue is the addition of new hospital wings when there is no apparent intention to make these additions seamless.
Also, if there are existing signs, these may use jargon, which makes it doubly hard for users to understand. Or in some cases, the current signs are old and outdated.
Updating a hospital’s wayfinding system
- Before any work on the existing wayfinding system begins, it is crucial to conduct an audit of the system, preferably by an independent third-party. The information you gather will be helpful for your chosen signage and wayfinding consultant.
Take into account that doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are already familiar with their work environment and may not be the best people to give input on the limitations of the existing system.
Once the deficiencies of the system have been listed down, it is crucial to track the travel path of patients, from all existing entry points to different destinations.
- Consider the use of color coding for each department. This will allow patients to quickly identify their current location as well as their chosen destinations. In some cases, it would be more beneficial to use universally recognized symbols.
- Avoid jargon and technical terms where feasible. For example, instead of using “Otolaryngology,” use “Ear, nose, and throat,” or use them together.
- Consistency is key. In designing an effective wayfinding system, it is crucial to use a uniform design which outlines which colors, fonts, graphics, shapes, and sizes to use. In some cases, it may be necessary to eliminate existing signs.
- Broken signs are unavoidable. As such, it is critical to have a replacement system in place that will allow the staff to quickly change broken signs and forgo the use of handmade signs.
- If the facility has an online presence, like a website or social media account, it would be beneficial for first-time visitors to view and even download directions and maps online. Interactive maps are best, although simple pictures and videos are adequate.
- Highlight the facility’s most prominent landmarks and use these as starting points. This will make navigation easier for first-time visitors.
- Consider strategically placing interactive kiosks around the hospital. This can help patients and their families map out their route.
- Finally, consider supplementing your wayfinding system with support staff whose primary task would be to greet patients and help them find their way around. Apart from these dedicated staff, all hospital employees should familiarize themselves with all the locations within the facility as well as the hospital wayfinding system.
Toward a positive patient experience
It is not just the patients who will immensely benefit from a positive experience during their visit or stay in a hospital. Healthcare facilities also benefit from positive patient experience.
For one, these interactions can boost the hospital’s reputation. In turn, a positive reputation can encourage a patient to come back and visit the facility and recommend it to his friends, loved ones, and colleagues.
Furthermore, the better the patient’s experience is, the more revenue a hospital can earn, with customer loyalty being a key driver for growth.
And finally, and more importantly, positive experience helps your facility achieve its underlying mission – to provide the best quality care for its customers.
Zak Zakaria is a Waymaker at dezigntechnic in Dubai who also previously worked as the company’s Graphic Designer and Art Director. Zak is a creative with work experience in multiple multinational agencies such as JWT and Saatchi & Saatchi. Signage design is a family business, making Zak’s personal experience with signage his longest professional commitment.