Hospital Wayfinding in 2024: Why It Is Important in Healthcare

Hospitals, especially those with multiple buildings spread over larger campuses, can often be frustrating to navigate. Hospitals that utilize wayfinding systems are generally much simpler and less stressful to navigate for both patients and visitors. Today, we will be discussing how well-designed wayfinding systems can benefit hospitals, patients and visitors.

What is a wayfinding system

A wayfinding system is designed to guide individuals from one space to another as efficiently as possible. In the case of a hospital system, this means helping patients and visitors get from one area of a hospital building to another -- e.g. the cafeteria to the gift shop -- or from different buildings spread over a larger hospital campus. A wayfinding system is meant to familiarize users with their surroundings with the goal of making subsequent visits easier. 

hospital wayfinding example.

Why wayfinding is important for hospitals 

Hospitals are notoriously busy places that see heavy foot traffic on a daily basis. Effective wayfinding systems are excellent tools to help keep hospitals running smoothly by allowing patients and visitors to easily navigate their environment on their own during what is often a stressful time.

Ultimately, wayfinding can provide these benefits for hospitals:

1) Help keep patient stress to a minimum

Well-designed wayfinding systems are intuitive enough for the vast majority of individuals to easily use. In the case of hospital buildings or campuses, this makes it easier on patients and visitors as they are less likely to end up frustrated while trying to figure out where they need to be. A properly executed wayfinding system ensures that users always know exactly where they need to go and how to get there, helping them to stay calm. 

2) Save time

Time is a limited resource for all, but it is an especially crucial aspect of hospital operations, especially when a few minutes can mean the difference between life or death. Wayfinding saves both patients, visitors and staff time by allowing them to navigate the hospital faster and easier without getting lost.

3) Decrease workload for staff

Wayfinding allows visitors to get where they need to be without requiring assistance. This frees up staff for more urgent tasks. As stated before, having proper wayfinding also keeps patients calm, making it easier and less stressful for the hospital staff to do their jobs effectively. 

How can hospitals improve their wayfinding systems? 

Almost all hospitals utilize some form of wayfinding, although the type of wayfinding employed tends to depend on several factors, including the hospital’s size and scale. However, as Baby Boomers age, hospitals are only becoming more congested and overcrowded, requiring the expansion and addition of their facilities. This, in turn, creates additional issues around navigation, both during and post-construction, which shines an even brighter light on the importance of implementing intuitive, useful wayfinding systems. Below are some examples on how wayfinding can be improved for the benefit of patients, visitors, and the hospital systems themselves. 

Digital Information Kiosks 

Digital information kiosks can benefit hospitals in two ways: they can provide digital maps to assist with wayfinding and also help provide more in-depth information about the hospital facility itself. Directory kiosks are available in nearly every hospital -- digital or not --  and help to locate specific rooms, services, departments or individuals. However, many hospitals are now moving to digital self-service kiosks with broader functionality in order to increase visitor and patient satisfaction, while freeing up staff.

Physical and Digital Signage

Along with digital information kiosks, physical and digital signage also plays a crucial part in hospital wayfinding. Both can be used to display hospital information, as well as assist patients and visitors in distinguishing between the many different buildings, areas and departments of a hospital campus. Another example of how hospitals employ digital signage is via waiting room boards which inform patients when their turn to be called back is coming up. These are especially common in urgent care and emergency room environments. 

Wayfinding Designs and Paths

At its core, wayfinding is the use of visual cues to help differentiate areas of a given environment for the purposes of simplified navigation. This is accomplished with structured pathways which can include the creative use of colors, unique lighting, or symbols. Structured pathways in many hospitals tend to be simple and use clear symbols such as arrows to keep patients and visitors on the right path. Hospitals also use unique colors to distinguish each ward or wing of the hospital, such as urgent care or pediatrics. Improving hospital wayfinding can be as simple as updating colors and symbols so that pathways are more clearly identifiable and intuitive for users. 

hospital wayfinding icons.

Optimizing for sight lines 

An often overlooked aspect that applies to all wayfinding is the use of clear sightlines. Hospitals should consider designing hospital corridors, walkways and pedestrian bridges in much the same way as city streets are planned, providing visual cues within reasonable sightlines of those navigating the buildings. Many hospitals, especially older facilities, were not built to optimize sightlines and therefore provide visitors with an easy path to follow. This can be a fairly simple way to update hospital wayfinding. Placing signs for different locations within clear sightlines helps ensure that patients and visitors can make quicker and better-informed decisions regarding how best to get to their next destination.

Limited navigation and choices

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, limiting navigational choices makes it much easier for most visitors to get where they need to go. Often times, hospitals provide multiple pathways to the same area, but this can create confusion for the user. Limiting navigational options means there is one path for a person to take, allowing for more effective, simplified guidance of the individual within and between facilities. 

Mobile wayfinding technology

Wayfinding apps have become popular enough that some larger hospital systems are adopting mobile technology to help users navigate their facilities. These apps are customized in order to provide detailed layouts of the hospital campus and even surrounding areas, and often integrate with real-time GPS navigation. This helps ensure visitors are able to locate any department or employee without having to endure the frustration and stress of becoming lost. 

As digital wayfinding continues to grow in popularity, more hospitals are adopting this technology. When utilized along with proper wayfinding design, hospitals will become much easier places to navigate, increasing patient and guest satisfaction via a more positive end-user experience. 

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