Experience Begins Well Before the Bed
We have all had that feeling of dread when we have to attend a medical appointment, particularly if it happens to be within a hospital either as an in-patient or an out-patient.
Any medical appointment is naturally a cause for concern and stress, but the dread can also stem from the entire experience. Where am I going to park? How am I going to find my way around? How long am I going to have to wait? What if I need information? What if I hate the experience? I hope the doctor is good and I hope I am cared for well by the nursing staff.
While doctors, nurses and admin staff are at the core of any medical service, as a patient your experience begins well and truly before the bedside, and will often continue after as well. Some hospitals look at online check-in and provide plenty of information online for access, but it often gets lost in the physical presence, and getting this integration between the digital and the physical environment balanced can yield fantastic results to the patient/visitor experience and even patient health. Let us look at some of the most common complaints out there.
Finding My Way Around
A common complaint about the experience of being in a hospital is that finding the way through a typically large environment can be daunting. Hospitals have done amazing things with static signs and colour coding to assist in this problem, but that has its limitations, and others have looked to address this with volunteers and admin staff to assist; however, the quality and availability of such resources can define the experience to the visitor, which can be a tough thing to monitor and keep consistent. The result is frustration and dread, and all of these feelings are occurring before the appointment even begins!
Digital is not a replacement for static signage or people, but it is complementary to it. There are many digital wayfinding solutions that do amazing things, and Google has taken this further with their Indoor Maps initiative that allow you to map out your facility and allow customers to track themselves inside (see more here). However, patient behaviour will have the patient look for signs, directories and staff to assist. Digitising your directories to make them interactive is a very effective option, allowing customers to search for their facility and then either be given a map on the screen, a printable map or even scan on their phone to go to a mobile friendly map which they can take with them. These directories can be multilingual, accessible and centrally controlled, allowing quick updates as doctors change or are only available on certain days. Let’s face it – boards like the one above are hard to navigate, difficult to maintain and are not aesthetically pleasing – particularly for hospitals looking to present themselves as digitally-enabled. With digital, you can get particularly clever and allow visitors to leave feedback or even book a taxi, as well as gather useful data which can help track traffic flow in the hospital.
Beacon integration is another digital solution that can turn a static sign into something intelligent. If the customer has downloaded your App, they can be served content or wayfinding messages as they come close to specific signs or areas. You can use these low cost devices to create hot zones whereby a patient/visitor passes, they are given messages relevant to the area. You can use multiple beacons to triangulate a person – giving very accurate wayfinding solutions for those that want that level of service, personalising content to suit the users requirements, or just a message to donate when they pass areas managed by the foundation.
If you do not allow your patient/visitor a clear path to register concerns, they will find their own way to do so – probably through a medium you do not want them to and have no control over. Social media can be a powerful mechanism to connect dissatisfied people to collectively damage your brand. It is truly spectacular what positive, useful interactions can be had by simply allowing a person to lodge their concern and then responding to it in positive environment.
The other great thing about digital is how low the price points have become. A simple tablet mounted in locations that allow a visitor to select a smiley-face to sad-face and then have the option to leave feedback and contact details can provide amazing amounts of intelligence when the data is maintained centrally, geolocated and time stamped. You can go from not knowing at all, to knowing what area and facility created the dissatisfaction, what areas create the most dissatisfaction to what areas created the least – and even understand which cleaners may be on duty in situations of bathroom satisfaction.
There are other more clinical activities that can be digitised such as registration and patient forms that can have operational and experiential benefits, and that is very likely to be on most health facilities agenda.
Reducing Perceived Wait Times
The entertainment possibilities are endless with digital systems. From displaying dynamic and engaging hospital-based campaigns in high traffic areas such as lift lobbies; to supplying waiting rooms with interactive gaming systems for the kids; to offering bedside entertainment to patients – digital solutions can transform a potentially bleak hospital experience into a connected one. All of this can be centrally managed by the communications/marketing department, and then local access given to facilities and staff members to control messages that need to happen in real time.
Patients aren’t the only people that need entertainment in the hospital setting. Every day multiple family members will spend time accompanying their loved ones to their appointments; and families will spend long, agonising hours in the waiting room of the ICU waiting for news of a loved one. While digital solutions can’t take away the pain and worry associated with this experience, they can potentially lessen perceived wait times and distract those that interact with it. Speaking from personal experience – having digital solutions in the ICU waiting room would be most welcome – particularly overnight. There’s only so much a decade-old issue of a magazine can do for you, and free-to-air TV is a terrible alternative. It is known that calming scenery, water and animals can have a calming impact on people, and this may be a far more appropriate way to keep patients/visitors engaged in the environment.
As David Maister says in The Psychology of Waiting Lines, ‘Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time’ so when it comes to reducing wait times in the hospital, we should focus on keeping the viewer/user occupied to maintain satisfaction.