better signage is top of the list for improving patient & visitor experience

Visiting a hospital is usually a stressful and emotional time for patients and visitors. Hospitals are large and complex and so finding your way to the correct department can be challenging and make a stressful situation worse. Hospitals have a challenge on their hands to improve visitor experience and signage should be at the top of the list for review.

And it’s not only about patient and visitor experience, having inadequate signage could actually be costing your Trust money. NHS data from 2013 suggests that around 6.9M outpatient hospital appointments, each costing an average of £108, are missed each year in the UK. Some doctors believe that a proportion of these missed appointments may be due to navigation problems,
especially at large hospitals.

The solution however, is not simple. Just think about the diverse range of cultures, physical ability and state of mind of your patients and visitors. Not to mention those who are coming to your hospital in a state of emergency. There are so many variables to consider when designing a signage solution to fit the brief.

One of the biggest mistakes that hospitals make when installing new signage is failing to undertake a full review of the existing signage before designing a new solution. Taking this approach will end up with a disjointed and illogical system which may leave patients and visitors even more confused.

When it’s not financially possible to update all the signage in one go, a good solution is to create a signage manual that can be rolled out across the hospital over time.

We’ve outlined our top tips when reviewing your hospital signage:

1. Stop, look and listen

Number one and most importantly, engage with your visitors and patients to find out how effective the existing signage is and where the issues are. Talk to staff, they will be able to tell you if they are regularly hearing from patients that they got lost, went to the wrong car park, or found it difficult making their way through the hospital. Take time to observe how people are moving around, it will be obvious to spot the signs of confusion.

2. Don’t overcomplicate it

Hospital buildings are big and complex, so there is a tendency to introduce a complex wayfinding system. Examples using colours, number, words and codes have been seen and described as being extremely confusing for first time visitors to the hospital.

3. Be consistent

One of the reasons why it’s a good idea to undertake a full review of the existing signage is to ensure there is consistency throughout the building. As visitors make their way around the hospital, the symbols, words and colours used will become familiar and make navigation much easier.

4. De-clutter

Wayfinding signs should be prominent to help minimise patients stress and confusion. We advise that any literature that is not directing patients to the right place should be kept to a minimum. Too many pieces of information can be distracting.

5. Don’t forgot about external signs

The visitor experience starts when they begin their journey to the hospital. Patient communications that include directions and a map prior to their visit (if a planned appointment) can help to improve the experience. As well as clear signage leading up to the hospital with directions to the correct car park and the closest entrance to the hospital.

6. Use maps

Using large scale maps with a ‘You are here’ marker can really help visitors visualise where they need to go and also have an expectation of how long it will take to get there.

7. Avoid medical terminology

Remember that your visitors are not medical professionals so the simplest and most well-known terminology should be used.

8. Use recognised international symbols

To help people whose first language is not English, using internationally recognised symbols will help to direct people to the right place.