Visual Communications and Medical Facility Vital Signs

It’s not a coincidence that the words “hospital” and “hospitality” go hand in hand. In accord with the original meaning of the word, hospitals were originally “places of hospitality,” and this meaning is still preserved in the names of some institutions such as the Royal Hospital Chelsea in England, established in 1681 as a retirement and nursing home for veteran soldiers.

Millions of people are visiting medical institutions every day. And whether they are visiting a family member or friend in the hospital or are a patient looking for a parking spot at a doctor’s office, individuals will rely on a number of signs to point them in the right direction. This is where effective visual communications come into play— effective signage and wayfinding systems.

The term “wayfinding” was coined in the 1960s by architect Kevin Andrew Lynch in his book, “The Image of the City”. Lynch studied under Frank Lloyd Wright then went on to become a professor at MIT. His book was the result of a five-year study on how users perceive and organize spatial information as they navigate through cities.

Effective signage structures in healthcare locations are more vast and complex than most wayfinding projects. Medical facility wayfinding systems need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Joint Commission (TJC), and State Health rules and regulations.

Exterior signage provides the most recognized identification for the image of the institution, not only for name/brand recognition, but as a useful wayfinding instrument. There are countless items to consider when planning, including roadside monument signs, main identification, building identification, pedestrian and vehicle direction, and parking signage. Staying on top of your local, state, and national codes for exterior signage are extremely important. Coming prepared will not only save your clients time, it will also save them money.

Interior identification is also critical. Like the importance of highway signs on a busy freeway or interstate system, interior wayfinding signage should function in a similar fashion. Through the use of design techniques, healthcare interior signage systems should inspire to bring cohesiveness to the building architecture and staff functions. Areas that need to be covered are room identification, department identification, wall and overhead directional signs, facility directories, dimensional letters, and elevator and stairwell identification.

Digital displays and kiosks are now a common component of healthcare messaging and health provider branding. As the technology matures and new applications are brought to the market, digital sign displays are starting to play a direct role in healthcare services and in smaller clinic settings.

Digital displays in waiting areas and lobbies make the wait time more enjoyable for patients and visitors alike. Digital waiting room signage can show expected wait times and patient queues and offer an up-to-date mix of news, health and wellness information, educational information, gift shop ads, cafeteria menus, and promotional content.

Wayfinding kiosks help patients navigate the facility without having to ask for directions. This improves patient satisfaction and increases the chance that they will arrive at their appointments on time. Hospital maps can be updated remotely, allowing administrators to manage an entire network of hospital directory wayfinding screens from a central location. Interactive “you are here” touchscreens make it even easier for patients and visitors to find their way.

Medical facilities need to have their visual vital signs measured to make sure communication is thriving and healthy. Regardless of the size and scope of an effective medical wayfinding system, an overall plan and assessment will promise a calm and cohesive directional system that provides users with the tools necessary to get from point A to point B.

With the changing needs to modern medical facilities, there will always be open opportunities for new business in medical wayfinding.