Industry Voices—Nearly a third of first-time hospital visitors get lost. Here's how to fix that

Problems with hospital navigation can lead to lower patient experience scores, more staff time spent directing visitors and, ultimately, decrease in revenue. (Getty/urfingussl)

Nearly one-third of first-time hospital visitors get lost.

Hospitals serve many different patients and needs, and that can make it challenging for people to quickly find exactly where they need to go.

The topic of healthcare wayfinding isn’t new; we’ve been talking about it for years. But with new technologies and systems, as well as facilities and some campuses getting bigger, effective wayfinding is critical: Problems with hospital navigation can lead to lower patient experience scores, more staff time spent directing visitors and, ultimately, decreases in revenue.

As technology continues to evolve, there are a number of different options hospitals can start to integrate to help with hospital navigation. However, it is important to remember that thousands of people navigate a hospital in a single day. Not all of these people have the same abilities or needs when it comes to wayfinding. A sick elderly patient has different wayfinding needs than an ER doctor on the move. Healthcare professionals are faced with the challenge of integrating wayfinding tools that are as easy as possible and accessible for all users. 

Below are a number of different wayfinding options hospitals and healthcare facilities can choose from and pair together to enhance campus navigation.

Digital signage

Until drones start picking people up and flying them through the hospital, wall signage is going to be fundamental to any wayfinding system. Not all visitors are willing to download an app or figure out routes beforehand, so having clear and easy-to-read wall signage ensures that all people can be reached without having to download or open anything on a mobile device. With digital signage, it’s easy to update campuswide navigation from a central location, making things a lot easier when things change or there are closures.

Digital touchscreen kiosks  

Strategically placed touchscreen kiosks throughout a hospital campus can also make a big difference, as long as they are easy to use. Touchscreen kiosks improve wayfinding by allowing visitors to see exactly where they are and get directions to their destination, among many other uses. Certain kiosks allow visitors to print, email or text themselves maps and directions as well, adding yet another key wayfinding tool that helps meet the needs of visitors. 

Interactive maps 

Interactive hospital maps are a powerful way to improve the patient experience and can help from driving directions all the way to the final location. To ease the minds of patients and visitors, interactive maps give them the opportunity to "visit" select locations well before they arrive. Once at the hospital, wayfinding can be integrated into the map for a more efficient way to get visitors to their end location, and interactive maps can also be integrated into touchscreen kiosks. 

With today's digital, 3D and location-aware technology, maps are no longer a 2D approximation of your building's layout; instead, they now offer an immersive experience that can help reduce anxiety. Interactive maps are extremely user friendly, and many are accessible on a mobile device. Additionally, interactive maps offer point-to-point wayfinding capabilities that allow visitors to drag-and-drop two points on the map to find the easiest route between locations. 

Virtual tours

Virtual tours of hospitals can help patients feel more comfortable and learn more about your facilities. Not all patients or visitors are familiar with the hospital they are going to, whether it’s because they live in another state or simply have not been there before. Virtual tours give patients the opportunity to “walk” within the facilities and familiarize themselves with the areas they will be receiving treatment. 

Nosocomephobia or the fear of hospitals is a real thing, and while not everyone has such a severe feeling toward medical facilities, hospitals do make a lot of people feel uneasy or nervous. Virtual tours allow future patients or visitors to check out the hospital's many buildings and facilities without actually having to be there in person. This can help people become more familiar with a hospital and as a result give them more comfort before they will navigate the space themselves. 

Virtual tours are also great ways to showcase many of the things a hospital has to offer. Usually, patients cannot visit certain areas within hospitals, but virtual tours can allow patients an inside look at operating rooms, imaging and diagnostic services or unique medical machinery. Bonus: Virtual tours can also be used for new ongoing staff development training.

Wayfinding apps

Apps are becoming more and more popular within hospital wayfinding. Many campuses are using different apps to help visitors have a smooth experience at their facilities. Apps can be fully customized for a hospital, showing as much or little detail as they’d like. For example, a number of apps provide GPS-precise directions on how to get to an appointment or certain parts of the hospital or allow users to download a 3D map instead.

Additionally, these wayfinding apps not only can provide directions within the hospital but they can also display nearby amenities such as the closest hotel, restaurant or Starbucks. This is particularly important for family members of patients who may be in long-term treatment. An app solution may not be a fit everywhere, as certain populations are much less likely to download an app for single-use wayfinding.

There are many different options when it comes to hospital wayfinding, and it is important to choose the right combination of options to support everyone in the hospital ecosystem. 

Jennifer Gombeski works in business development at Concept3D.