Digital wayfinding: Improving workflow and the patient Experience

Sprawling hospital campuses can be difficult and intimidating for patients to navigate. For some, locating the correct office or unit may feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Some medical centers cover multiple city blocks, causing navigational difficulties for first time and repeat patients alike. Medical campuses grow and change over time and each new unit, department, or building can cause disruption to a patient’s known path.

As healthcare becomes increasingly competitive, the line between patient and customer begins to blur. Healthcare facilities must anticipate patient needs and meet their expectations in a timely manner with convenient and innovative solutions. The health technology industry is rapidly growing and seeks to provide a quality experience for patients and their families. With new technologies constantly emerging, facilities must be selective in implementing proven, user-friendly, and high-ROI solutions that benefit patients, staff, and operations.

One such solution is digital wayfinding. As any sized healthcare campus can be overwhelming for patients and visitors to navigate, digital wayfinding and interactive campus maps provide easy-to-use indoor and outdoor navigation that efficiently directs users to their destinations. These cost-effective, GPS-like solutions address an immediate need with a user-friendly, familiar approach that’s easy for facilities to implement.

Navigating as a pain point for patients, visitors, and staff

 It’s not unusual for patients to get lost during their first visit to a new healthcare facility, some facilities have reported that nearly 30% of patients get lost on their way to their first appointment. Even staff report difficulty navigating large campuses. These challenges can lead to additional stress for patients and visitors, late arrivals, missed appointments, and ultimately delayed patient care. In fact, a recent study found that patients who missed an appointment with their primary care providers were 70% more likely not to return in the following 18 months. Reports have shown that implementing a digital wayfinding solution in facilities reduces patient anxiety related to navigation.

Healthcare facilities have estimated losing $200,000 per year due to scheduling conflicts directly caused by patient navigational challenges. Combined nationwide, hospitals lose $150 billion each year simply due to missed appointments and each no-show appointment costs the healthcare industry an estimated $200. Late appointments can be just as costly. Staff members lose precious time while monitoring for late patients. Tardiness backs up the schedule and creates costly inefficiencies, as well as impacts satisfaction for the on-time patients who are kept waiting. A patient rushing to an appointment will often stop anyone in a uniform to ask for directions — usually a doctor or nurse — which can also take time away from providing patient care and other duties, not to mention increase the potential for exposure risks through added contact.

Unfortunately for patients and their providers, hospitals are prone to navigation difficulties. There are countless entrances, miles of similar looking hallways, room changes, and additions. Navigating a complex campus increases stress in patients who are likely already experiencing some anxiety over their health or medical condition that brought them to the hospital in the first place.

Digital wayfinding as a user-friendly solution

An advanced digital wayfinding solution can create a route for a patient and send it via text directly to their mobile phone. The route will open in a web browser, eliminating the need for a specific app download, and guide the patient through their appointment process. These maps are overlaid onto a private Google Maps-like interface, allowing users to have a sense of familiarity, while providing real-world contextual information about where they are and where they are going.

The directions provide the best place to park, the most efficient route to follow, and saves the user’s parking spot. Upon the conclusion of their appointment, the digital wayfinding solution will guide the user back to their car or initial starting point. Each route is highlighted and can provide turn-by-turn directions as well as points of interest along the way.

Top digital wayfinding solutions can also utilize QR codes inside and outside hospital facilities. This no-hardware approach is both cost-effective and easy for patients and visitors to utilize. For example, a patient’s friend or family member can arrive at the hospital, scan a QR code in the parking lot, and then select the relevant point of interest from the facility’s list. The solution then generates a route that takes them from their current location directly to their desired destination. As another option, patients can privately share their indoor location via text or email to give visitors an exact room location and the best route to get there.

Digital wayfinding solutions can be personalized to show handicap routes and options for avoiding certain areas, like quarantine wings. They can also include contact information, hours of operation, web URLs, and other details a patient may need related to their destination. These digital tools give patients and visitors the ability to freely manage their own visits confidently and promptly.

Benefits of wayfinding solutions for patients, staff, and administrators

When patients can successfully navigate for themselves, they feel more confident and less stressed about their impending appointment. This freedom allows them the chance to focus on their care and healing.

When patients aren’t late for appointments, staff can better stay on schedule and meet their patients’ needs and expectations in the most efficient manner. Digital wayfinding solutions also specifically benefit and streamline emergency services. When people in crises arrive, they can easily see where to go and how to get there.

By using QR codes and web browsers, installation and launch are streamlined and cost-effective. Solutions can easily convert CAD or other floor plan files to the navigation system, minimizing much of the lead time in map development. Digital wayfinding is a relatively fast and economical way to instantly improve patient satisfaction, enhance workflows, and support efficient scheduling.

Finding our way to a better healthcare campus experience

As healthcare facilities look to implement new solutions, ROI should always be top of mind. A solution that doesn’t require hardware to deploy will have the fastest ROI and offer the shortest implementation time. Ideally, the digital wayfinding solution will not require indoor positioning, apps to download, or hardware such as Bluetooth beacons. Additionally, this approach can be scaled up in the future, meaning the digital solution can be implemented into the healthcare facility’s app or expanded with EMR integrations, such as Epic.

Another key point to prioritize in a solution is that it’s user-friendly. A solution that only requires the use of a smartphone, instead of a new app download, will be easiest for patients and visitors to utilize. Even if facilities add in-app features later, maintaining the QR code/web browser system will help patients and visitors who haven’t pre-download the app or may not know how — two of the largest barriers in app adoption.

As hospitals continue to grow and patients’ needs continue to evolve, digital wayfinding solutions help healthcare facilities mitigate a common stressor. The autonomy a patient feels when self-navigating and the ability to solely focus on their care, combined with the scheduling benefits from on-time appointments, proves digital wayfinding is a powerful tool – one that innovative healthcare facilities must consider.

Photo: Bulat Silvia, Getty Images

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