How to Do Digital Wayfinding the Right Way

The Wall Street Journal wrote: “Hospitals are realizing they have a design problem as patients and visitors struggle to navigate the maze of the modern medical complex.” [WSJ]

Improving hospital wayfinding is on the agenda for many hospital executives we speak with. Why? “The frustration of getting lost is ranked among the top complaints by visitors to healthcare facilities… The negative impact on brand image, confidence, and trust is significant.” (Healthcare Design)

Almost all wayfinding systems today involve digital technology. But with so many solutions, so many choices, it can get confusing. Here, we explain the main options, along with advice about how to keep things simple.


Option 1: Digital directories

This involves replacing large, physical directories with digital displays. Typically, a visitor can:

  • Search their destination and view a navigation path.
  • Search in multiple languages, including accessibility options such as audio support.
  • Press a button to request assistance.


There are many advantages over physical directories:

Information such as clinician names and locations can be remotely controlled and changed in seconds, at less cost than physical directories and with greater accuracy.

  • Larger quantities of information can be provided, such as multiple languages.
  • You can cater to visitors with a disability
  • You can communicate relevant information, events and other details while you have the visitor engaged.


Some issues to watch for when deciding on directory technology:

  • Kiosks are not a ‘must-have’, and their use immediately increases your costs and complexity.
  • If existing wayfinding infrastructure is satisfactory, a digital directory may stand alone. It can include instructions such as ‘follow the red line’, without the need for over-engineering. The directory can then communicate to the user’s phone to provide further real-time guidance.
  • The fear factor: a digital directory doesn’t make volunteers redundant: it’s complementary, especially when volunteers can interact with the directory as a communication and guidance tool.


Option 2: A digital solution

Sometimes, a simple directory isn’t a sufficient solution, especially on large campuses. A digital solution may include:

  • Dynamically-changing content, such as for rooms that are used for different purposes on any given day.
  • Reinforcement screens, such as those in corridors to inform the visitor where they are and which direction to turn.
  • Additional functionality on digital devices, such as check in or feedback.
  • Cross-device functionality, such as wayfinding information on a website so a visitor can plan their trip, print directions, or download an app to guide their way.
  • A personalised navigation experience, using GPS, Wifi and/or beacons to guide visitors on a mobile device (the ‘blue dot’ we are used to on mapping apps that works indoors). This is beneficial where patients are running late and need to get to their destination quickly. Or at peak times, you could guide visitors to an alternative café or service desk to minimise wait times. Integrating car parking advice can also aid navigation by guiding the patient to the nearest available car parks to minimise delays.
  • Patient apps that include wayfinding. They might also include appointment booking, pre-appointment reminders such as fasting, fly-throughs for directions, parking or transport information, check in, queue management, and post-care follow up.


Benefits of digital wayfinding

The benefits of digital wayfinding are well-documented. A review of the academic literature summarised the key outcomes as:

  • Reducing the interruptions for nurses and healthcare providers to direct lost individuals, which affects the morale of staff and can lead to a decline in patient care. (A study at an Atlanta hospital found that the equivalent of two full-time positions were eaten up by staff giving people directions.)
  • Reducing late arrivals and the effects to patient care, operational efficiency and cost.
  • Increases in patient, visitor and staff satisfaction and an increase in efficiency.


The key message for hospitals is to get the right advice on a fit-for-purpose solution that does just what you need it to, without overcomplicating the visitor experience.

Post by Yazz Krishna

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