If you’ve ever gotten lost in a hospital, you’re not alone. Studies estimate that anywhere between one-third and 50% of patients have experienced the same thing in the recent past. And it’s not just limited to external audiences, either; according to Deloitte digital, up to one-quarter of hospital employees still have trouble navigating their place of work.

Anyone who’s been to a hospital knows exactly why that’s the case. Campuses that stretch across multiple buildings, with plenty of entrances and floors to match, can quickly turn into a maze that keeps drawing visitors deeper in. Add floors that tend to look alike, and finding that doctor or patient room quickly turns into an impossibility.

These difficulties have become tangible problems for hospitals and other healthcare complexes in the recent past. Fortunately, new technologies have brought with them the potential saving grace: interactive wayfinding solutions designed specifically to reduce the confusion, minimize the problem, and improve flow throughout the complex.

The Trouble with Healthcare Wayfinding Problems

Patients and employees getting lost in your buildings is not just a vanity problem. It can have real business consequences. As our VP of Sales Robert Johnson pointed out in a recent VentureBeat article,

While the anxiety this causes patients and their families is one side of the problem, it can ultimately lead to complaints and a change of a hospital’s rating with the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). The other is a hard cost to hospitals due to late arrivals and resulting schedule backup, staff time spent directing people around, etc. Hard to estimate, but over the course of a year, it adds up.

The two stakeholder groups here, patients and employees, are worth digging into more deeply.

Wayfinding and Poor Patient Experience: What Are the Consequences?

Stress and anxiety is the obvious result of poor wayfinding mechanisms. Missing a medical appointment can have significant consequences for specialists that often book their schedule months out. Even the thought of being late because the hospital presents a seemingly impossible obstacle can worsen the mental condition of anyone (patient or family) looking to find their way.

In addition to health consequences, the business consequences of poor wayfinding are just as real on the patient side. Your hospital will likely see an increase in complaints, and these complaints begin to reflect online ratings, as well. A 2018 survey discovered that 95% of patients find online reviews to be reliable in choosing their doctor. Imagine the consequences of driving down the ratings of the entire hospital.

Finally, rating agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the aforementioned HCAHPS consider consumer opinions, further driving down reputability. All that because your hospital complex is too difficult to navigate.

Wayfinding and Employee Complications: What are the Costs?

Patients are not the only ones suffering from poor indoor mapping. If the above study continues to ring through, one in four employees has experienced significant troubles getting where they need to go in the recent past. That can result in late arrivals to work, missed appointments, rescheduling, and more.

As described above, the exact cost of this problem is difficult to estimate. We do know, of course, the cost of missed appointments on the aggregate: more than $150 billion every year. If each unused timeslot costs each practice $200, and 25% of your 150 doctors in the hospital miss one per week due to poor wayfinding, that problem now costs you $30,000 per month.

Taking Comprehensive Action to Prevent Future Costs

The inconvenience and real business problems caused by this issue have led to some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers, like the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s medical campus, begin treating wayfinding as a real business problem. In this case study that takes us back to 2013, a complex spanning almost 100 city blocks required a solution that was just as comprehensive.

Fast-forward five years and UAB has continued to evolve its wayfinding capabilities. It is now an institution-wide philosophy, designed to keep patients happy and employees productive. To get to the same point, it’s best to start with the basics.

Basic Indoor Map Solutions, Modernized to Match the Audience

Providing a map of the hospital is not new. In fact, it might be as old as the idea of hospitals itself. Modern technology has not replaced this type of basic indoor mapping. Instead, it has evolved this basic concept into something more comprehensive, more usable for patients looking to find their way through the complex and campus.

Digital Signage

No matter your technology integration level when it comes to wayfinding solution, signage tends to be a part of it. Of course, you want to direct your patients to the elevator, exits, or check-in desks. Taking the concept digital has resulted in a number of advantages for hospitals:

  • Central signage management that can be pushed out to individual signs and monitors.
  • Easier, centralized updates to navigation as needed, including items such as doctor names, reroutes due to construction, etc.
  • Promotional opportunities alongside wayfinding signs that can highlight parking, items in the gift shop, and more.

Digital Touchscreen Kiosks

Sometimes, signage evolves into more than just a screen on the wall. Self-service touchscreen kiosks can be placed throughout the hospital campus, both indoors and outdoors. They’re usable for a variety of purposes:

  • Patient check-ins and registration
  • Basic information about the hospital, such as visiting hours
  • Emergency response communication, like steps to take and routes to avoid
  • Wayfinding, in the form of a more comprehensive solution than simple maps

Imagine a hospital map, placed on a touchscreen kiosk. Visitors can scroll through to find their desired location, then get directions on how to get there. Some products allow users to print or email custom maps and directions to keep patients informed, even as they leave that specific location.

Interactive Maps

Finally, the indoor map itself has seen a significant overhaul. At a kiosk, they allow for layers that show easy routes to patient rooms, offices, or eating possibilities. Users can simply select what they need and filter out irrelevant information.

These layers also work in building maps for the various audiences in need of wayfinding solutions. A nurse on her way to a doctor’s office will likely need a very different map, with different instruction, than a patient’s family just checking in after serious surgery. A complex like UAB, with its span of 100 city blocks, can quickly get confusing even on a map. Filtering out irrelevant data can ease functionality.

Interactive maps can also play a role in the pre-visit experience, available online to help anyone visiting the hospital to gain an overview and plan their trip. Mobile-accessible, these maps can become a core checkpoint for any user both before and during the hospital visit, with 3D renderings showing the exact buildings and further reducing confusion.

Advanced Augmented and Virtual Reality Wayfinding to Maximize Opportunity

Digital signage, kiosks, and maps have leveraged technology to improve the way we navigate our way around hospitals. They’re well-established in building better patient and employee experiences throughout the industry. At the same time, they’re far from the only solution. More advanced opportunities have made their way into the mainstream, as well.

In 2019, virtual reality is no longer confined to a niche or young audience. It’s become a core part of many industries, from training and development to military uses. Meanwhile, augmented reality has graduated from the failed Google Glass, and gaming phenomenon Pokemon Go to become a real alternative for providers looking to improve wayfinding in their hospitals. Each of them deserves further discussion and consideration.

Hospital Wayfinding Through Virtual Reality

This is an industry on the rise. Expect global revenues to grow from $2 billion in 2016 to an astounding $26 billion by 2022. Much of that is in gaming, but other industries are beginning to leverage it as well. Within healthcare, patient experience prior to the visit is an especially attractive opportunity.

The opportunity, as described by Johnson in VentureBeat, is significant:

Upon scheduling a visit, hospital staff or automated emails/text messages could easily provide recommended parking locations and a link to a VR-enabled wayfinding tour… This is efficient, the technology is readily available, and — perhaps most important — the tour provides the patient or visitor with visuals of exactly what they are going to see on site.

Studies have shown that experiences through virtual reality improve memory retention and recall compared to every other medium. If your patients have the opportunity to ‘experience’ the hospital and their ideal route before they ever set foot in the parking lot, their chances of finding where they need to go with their first shot increase drastically.

Of course, the same concept can also be used during staff training, where virtual reality allows new employees to ‘explore’ the facilities and find where they need to go without significant physical effort. Finally, virtual reality actually integrates quite naturally with some of the other solutions above, such as interactive maps, offering digital insights into key traffic points that go beyond a simple rendering of the space.

Hospital Wayfinding Through Augmented Reality

Just as interactive maps are replacing traditional, printed indoor maps, augmented reality has the potential to do the same for a longtime staple in hospital wayfinding: those multi-colored arrows and paths on the floor. We know that this standard method works and can actually improve patient safety. We also know that painting the same path across multiple buildings, and for every possibility, is next to impossible.

That’s where augmented reality (AR) enters the equation. Instead of taking the user out from the real world entirely as VR does, it simply takes real-world surroundings and adds digital, interactive components to it. Imagine a blue arrow that guides you through the entire hospital and clearly marks where you have to turn left or right, or what door to go through. Crucially it can do the same for the needs of every other person in the hospital at the same time, without confusing any of them with irrelevant information.

In terms of core goals, hospitals and airports couldn’t be further apart. Surprisingly, though, their wayfinding needs are actually quite similar. So it’s relevant to mention that the exact concept above actually won an innovation award for Gatwick airport, with a special note of the benefits that it has provided for the many passengers passing through the massive space.

Building an Integrated Digital Wayfinding Solution to Modernize Patient Experiences

So far, we’ve considered all of the above as distinct opportunities for healthcare providers looking to create more interactive wayfinding solutions. The reality, of course, is more complex than that. This is not a menu for providers to choose from at the expense of the others. Instead, it’s a foundation from which a more comprehensive, integrated wayfinding opportunity can emerge.

The key to success, once again, lies in your audience. A visitor looking to enter your hospital will likely look for a simple solution to find their way. Opportunities like VR, AR, and even simple interactive maps become features of that solution, not solutions in themselves. Within a mobile app, virtual tours integrate multiple concepts into a single, comprehensive experience.

That’s not an easy task to accomplish. It requires both knowledge on the technological possibilities and expertise in how to integrate it. That happens in the form of virtual tours, mobile apps, and more. Patient (and user) experience has to remain at the forefront when building wayfinding solutions designed to drive your hospital experience and patient satisfaction upwards.

Concept3D has been a leader in the wayfinding space for years, and that expertise extends to healthcare, as well. The VR opportunities showcased at the Oregon Health & Science University virtual tour add another layer to the wayfinding puzzle.

We want to build and solve that puzzle with you. Contact us to start talking about your own wayfinding solutions, and how they can be improved through features and opportunities like the above. Let’s work together in making your healthcare space more intuitive, positive, and easy to navigate.