Managing Patient Information: Public vs. Private Space

Posted in Healthcare, Wayfinding Concept, White Paper on December 11th, 2009 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

In our healthcare work, we often face the critical question of how to manage competing interests in patient room signage. With so much potential information that could be displayed, what should be? What specific functionality does staff need to effectively do their jobs? How much precautionary information should be shared with visitors? Finally, what about the patient’s privacy concerns?

We’d like to explore the issue a bit further, starting with this question: So who visits patients?

Of course, multiple caregivers are frequently entering and exiting the room; we assume that they are sufficiently aware of any restrictions based on that patient’s confidential chart. Family may keep a recovering patient company; at intervals, there may be a large number of people of varying ages, abilities and relationships to the patient. Neighbors, friends and clergy may drop in to offer encouragement. The local florist might make a delivery, if allowed on patient floors.

Patient Room Exterior DoorFrom the standpoint of the patient, they may be compromised in a number of ways: they may need more rest than usual or their diet might be restricted. Contact with flowers or latex balloons might cause a reaction. Or they may be in a semi-private room, increasing the odds of exposure. For these reasons, all visitors need to be informed, prior to entering a patient room, of any situation that requires sensitivity.

This is tricky business. A facility must balance the need to prepare visitors with the need to protect a patient’s private medical information. This information, typically integrated with a room sign, should simply convey expected visitor behavior while in the patient’s room.

Contact IsolationBut often, technical information also needs to be displayed so staff can be aware of a patient’s condition at a glance, without delving through their entire history. We submit that this information should be clearly displayed within every patient’s room, using consistent form, location, color and functionality. This in-room system should be designed to accommodate frequent changes without compromising the patient’s health or privacy.

Type and symbols

Patient Room Symbols 1When communicating to an audience in motion – such as a visitor in a medical environment – keep a few clear, concise messages visible to avoid information overload. Appropriate use of terminology, typography, symbolism and technology will help achieve effective communication. This sign type (designed and marketed by our friends at L&H Signs) has the right idea, but we’d submit that to most lay people, these symbols would be fairly obscure. Are they directed at staff or the general public? Should I stay in the hallway or go in?

Steps toward a solution

Our designers are working with selected healthcare clients and signage fabricators to develop a system of signage, symbology and terminology to address the needs above. We’ve drafted an icon symbol set that helps clarify messages and are prototyping a patient room identifier that contains the appropriate amount of information for both staff, visitors and the patient.

Patient Room RecommendationsA quick preview of our location guidelines shows how general, public-facing information should be displayed in the hallway, and more detailed information in the patient room. Part of our contribution to a healthcare project is a best-practices description of these ideas, based on past experience with clients and current thinking on patient privacy.

Information to be shared on the outside of the room includes:

  • No food or drink
  • Latex sensitive/Allergy
  • No flowers
  • Do not enter, see nurse
  • Mask and gown required
  • Grieving
  • Keep door closed

And on the inside, for staff:

  • No blood pressure or vein puncture: right or left arm
  • Lymph risk
  • Calorie count
  • Fluid restrictions
  • No visitors
  • Name alert
  • 24 hour urine
  • Wash hands
  • Wear gloves
  • Radiation caution
  • Droplet contact isolation
  • Airborne contact isolation

We look forward to collaborating with our clients and fabrication resources to deliver better patient care. Future blog posts will provide updates on our progress.

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