The Human Cost of Hospital Navigation Issues

When we’re looking at the problem of people getting lost in hospitals, it’s easy to focus on the facts and figures.

  • 30% of first-time visitors get confused and lost in hospitals [1]
  • A quarter of staff report difficulties in finding critical destinations within the hospital [2]
  • All junior doctors reported getting lost on the way to urgent crash calls [3]
  • An analysis at Atlanta’s Emory University found that wayfinding was costing the institution more than $200,000 every year [4]

But it’s the human cost that illuminates the urgency of our hospital navigation problem.

…The state of being lost has several negative impacts on patients. It has been shown in studies to have increased acute stress, blood pressure, physical aggression and fatigue in patients. With large community and specialty healthcare facilities the problem is chronic and severe, worldwide.” [4]

Let’s look at it from an individual level.

An elderly patient who uses a walking frame goes the wrong way. By the time he realises, he can’t walk any further and needs to take a rest. He’s late to his appointment.

A patient with limited English arrives for admission. But with no easy way to communicate where the patient needs to go, everyone gets frustrated.

A specialist arrives to perform emergency surgery but loses her way because a hospital refurbishment is not well signed. She’s late.

An outpatient clinic is located in an awkward, hard-to-find spot. Patients are routinely cross and aggressive by the time they arrive – and usually late. Staff turnover is high.

Volunteers spend a huge amount of time updating directory sliders with doctors’ names in 30 hospital locations. Updates are slower than they should be which causes patient confusion and the volunteer coordinator is frustrated that volunteers could be better used to help patients more directly.

The upshot

Whether you’re looking at the hospital navigation problem from a statistical or personal perspective, both lead you to the same conclusion. More needs to be done to enhance the patient experience, reduce the amount of people getting lost, and slash late appointments.


How digital can help

There is no one-sized-fits-all solution to fix hospital navigation. Not only is every hospital campus different, but every hospital’s demographics are different. If you have a high proportion of senior patients, or non-English-speaking patients, your solution needs to accommodate this. So whoever you work with needs to have the ability to tailor a solution to your specific needs. And you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach. Here’s how you can build capability gradually:

1.      Start simple: Use digital directories and wayfinding screens to get visitors from the carpark to the reception of the building they need to get to. Use screens in the highest-traffic areas such as lobbies of main buildings. Provide written directions using physical references such as – take the lift to level 1, then follow the red line.

2.      Begin to build: Add individual doctors to digital directories so that visitors can search by name. Add interactive maps to enhance existing directories. Add screens to the reception areas of key buildings.

3.      Get fancy. Use QR codes or apps to provide visitors with directions on their phones using WiFi triangulation or Beacons. Add functionality to digital devices, like check-in or feedback. Add reinforcement screens in areas such as corridors. Use screens to manage rooms that are used for changing purposes and personnel, and integrate with your scheduling system so that doctors on duty are automatically displayed along with average wait times.

Digital doesn’t have to mean difficult. In fact, the art of keeping it simple is something that should be a key criteria.

Post by Yazz Krishna

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