Indoor Navigation in Hospitals – Best Practices for a Mobile Wayfinding deployment

Indoor navigation is not just about technology. Copying a navigation system designed for outdoor use to be used indoors is just not going to work. Car navigation is different from pedestrian navigation and very different from pedestrian navigation within the built environment.

At Eyedog, we have conducted in depth, scientific research and continue to work closely with respected research institutions like Ghent University, Delft University of Technology and ETH Zurich

We are not just interested in the technology aspects surrounding wayfinding. We are interested in fully understanding how people typically move around inside large complex buildings. We want to understand better the psychological aspects behind wayfinding, like user behavior, mental states, cognition, etc. We see technology as one aspect of a project which may lead to a better wayfinding experience for the patients, employees, visitors, and guests.


Focus on Wayfinding performance

The biggest mistake we see in the market is that Indoor Navigation projects often begin and end within the IT department alone.  We have to first admit that every (mobile) wayfinding project is unique. A mobile wayfinding project in a hospital is so much different from a mobile wayfinding project in a mall. The way people typically move around is completely different. There are even differences between mobile wayfinding deployments from hospital to hospital.  Every building has its own unique wayfinding challenges.

One of the biggest UX challenges you have to overcome is that the user has to interact with a smartphone (Human Computer Interaction) and often at the same time they are entering a building for the first time. This is a complicated situation which can be further compromised by choosing the wrong mobile wayfinding concept.

Research studies show the benefits of photo landmark navigation and acknowledge that digital maps are cognitive too demanding. This is typically a problem in hospitals were human reasoning is very much influenced by negative emotions. The focus to ensure a consumer’s wayfinding experience goes as smoothly as possible is of vital importance..

Access to digital wayfinding information

Signage has many downsides. However, there is one big advantage that signage has and that is that it's ‘just there’ as analog augmented reality. It is easy accessible as a tool on itself.

In order for a mobile wayfinding solution to become adopted by consumers, they need to know about it first through proper communications. However, it is against best wayfinding practise to request a favour from hospital visitors first, before getting wayfinding information from you. The barrier to use the mobile wayfinding tool will simply be too high and adoption becomes very challenging.

We have seen that just offering a wayfinding app results in slow adoption. Word of mouth to inform patients as they enter the building is not enough. We have to understand that people don’t have a wayfinding problem, until they are lost or simply don’t know where to go. When people are lost, their first instinct is not to go to the app store to search for and download an app to get back on track. That is not going to happen even with lots of advertising. People will look for a hospital employee to ask for directions. The research Eyedog has conducted includes an understanding of the patient’s journey will ensure hospitals can provide wayfinding at the right time, and at the right place through multiple touch points. 


Mobile Wayfinding empowering a seamless Patient Journey

There are numerous reasons why a properly developed wayfinding solution is very important to a hospital or health system. It is in the hospital’s best interest to help patients arrive on time, without stress, and without having to stop to ask someone for directions along the way. Developing a communication strategy will reduce appointment tardiness and no shows.  
The costs due to flawed wayfinding design can easily go over 200.000 euro per year. On top of that, stressed patients having problems finding their way may lead to low customer satisfaction scores.


The wayfinding journey starts at home

In all wayfinding projects at hospitals we understand the patient journey begins at home. We strongly recommend to store mapping information into your health information systems like Epic, Cerner, Chipsoft, etc.

This approach will allow to integrate prepopulated wayfinding pathways into patient’s appointment details in your patient apps, or in confirmation emails or SMS text message reminders. This means the patient can prepare for their appointment from the comfort of their own home; how to get to the hospital (by car, or public transportation) and how to get around inside the hospital. 
Per your hospital’s appointment confirmation or reminder schedule the patient can receive a SMS text message. Studies in the Netherlands confirmed that no-shows decreased a whopping 9% when patients received a SMS text message the day before their appointment to explore where they are going in the hospital ahead of time. The message includes a link which provides the patient a clear personalized pathway on the patient’s smartphone. (See below) 


Personalised wayfinding information by SMS from the Health Information System

Personalised wayfinding information by SMS from the Health Information System


Inside the hospital - Hospital Wayfinding Portal

The patients who were able to use the directions inside their patient app or the link in the SMS text message or the email, are ready to go. The patients who don’t have the patients app or missed this communication, can proceed to a staffed welcome desk, registration office, or un-staffed kiosk with access to the Hospital Wayfinding Portal. They can ask for directions and the staff member or self-service kiosk can provide directions to any point of interest configured in the Hospital Wayfinding Portal. A powerful option allows for transferring the photo-landmark navigation directions to the patient’s smartphone by scanning a QR code or entering a mobile phone number to receive a text message which includes a unique web link.



Going from place to place

When visiting a hospital, patients may have multiple appointments on the same day, causing the patient to go to multiple locations within a building. Every clinic desk and nurse station also has access to the Hospital Wayfinding Portal which makes it possible to push the photo landmark navigation directions to a patient’s smartphone quickly and easily.  When a patient visits the Cardio - Vascular clinic and learns a blood test is needed, the clinic staff can quickly push the proper pathway to the patient’s smartphone.  In the very rare occasion a patient gets lost (93% success rate), they can simply walk to the nearest staffed office or greeting station for assistance as the whole hospital can have access to the Hospital Wayfinding Portal. Everybody is able to help everybody.

What can we offer the very small population of patients who do not have smartphones? Welcome desks, nurse stations, etc. can print the photo landmark navigation directions as well. (Popular pathways can be printed ahead of time too).

It is possible to enhance a hospital’s large and expensive health information management system by storing simple location codes to integrate easily with the Eyedog wayfinding platform. We are just a few steps away from the moment where a hospital will not install signage but solely rely on mobile wayfinding.

Wayfinding is communication

Guiding patients in your building is very much depending on the right (visual) communication. This concept (just like any other wayfinding concept) requires serious changes in current patient communication methodologies. Wether we are talking about introducing a new wayfinding concept or new digital concepts: communication is the key to adoption to instigate a serious cultural change that is required to fully embed these tools into the patient journey. Digital wayfinding tools are not going to be used by itself without any communication. The reason for that is simple: people don’t think they have a wayfinding problem. They have a wayfinding problem the moment they are lost and then it is too late to onboard them to digital tools. They are not going to download or fire an app in the middle of the hospital to find their way; they simply ask somebody that looks like a doctor.
(Digital) wayfinding communication starts before patients have a wayfinding problem. Patients should be taken by the hand when they are at the beginning of their patient journey at home, all the way to the end of their journey where they leave the campus back home. During this journey, the right wayfinding information should be available at the right time, through different touch points and platforms.

Wayfinding is not about technology. Wayfinding is about communication. Technology is just the enabler where communication ties all the pieces together.