Moderator: Randy Cooper, Cooper Signage & Graphics Inc.
Panelist: Chuck Motta, ChyTV
Enter through the East entrance of the West tower. Take the North elevators to the fifth floor. Turn left, then right. Follow the signs for the oncology department.
Many patients start their healthcare journeys like this, wandering through a hospital armed with over-the-phone directions scribbled on a receipt only to find themselves in the wrong part of the building, lost and late.
With as complex and large as many healthcare centers have become, the quest to find Room X or Office Y in any given institution is often a navigational nightmare. But incorporating concepts of electronic wayfinding, such as touch-screen directories, high-definition televisions and digital signs, can help guide patients through a health center's maze-like corridors and potentially improve a facility's image, said Randy Cooper, president of Cooper Signage & Graphics Inc.
“You're dealing with a unique situation in healthcare,” Cooper said. “We have to deal with the emotion and stress people are dealing with.”
Getting lost in a building adds to this stress and could lead to missed appointments, wasted staff time and safety concerns should patients inadvertently wander into restricted areas, Cooper said.
“We have to be user-friendly,” he said. “That's what it comes down to.”
Options for improving wayfinding in health centers include installing high-definition televisions as versatile signs that can broadcast everything from Oprah to policy messages or touch-screen computers to use as directories, Cooper said.
Although televisions are the most user-friendly option, they may not work for all messages. Some codes require certain statements be posted in type too large for TVs.
Digital signs can be a solution for communicating in multiple languages. At Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, Cooper's company installed digital signs that broadcast rotating messages in seven languages, each in their own color to make it easier for visitors.
In addition to directories, touch-screen computers can link to compatible websites and display maps, although Cooper cautions that this technology may not appeal to elderly adults.
But wayfinding isn't just about improving signs. Inconsistent terminology, confusing addresses and department names - “you call it otolaryngology, I call it ENT” - can perplex people, too. When naming new buildings or units, Cooper preaches usability and suggests finding a logical name, like the Smith entrance for an entrance on Smith Street. He also proposes training staff members to use consistent terms and names.
Confused about where to begin? A good first step is to determine what needs a facility has and set goals, keeping in mind the type of experience you want visitors to have.
“We recommend you start modestly,” Cooper said. “Start with a program and see how (the changes) are responded to.”
- April Frawley Birdwell