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Commentary: The Case for Human-Centered Healthcare Design

Posted in Commentary, Healthcare, Healthcare Wayfinding, Hospital Wayfinding, Wayfinding Concept on January 5th, 2016 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

In a December, 2015 Point of View article in Metropolis Magazine, Zachary Loudin expands on an observation made by Dr. Mitchell Rabkin in Harvard Medicine’s Winter 2015 issue about the point of view of the “vertical doctor” and the “horizontal patient.” In it, Loudin makes the case that the designers of healthcare spaces need to view the environment through the patient’s eyes in order to understand how to advance healthcare environments. All very true.

We would submit, however, that good design expands beyond what patients and visitors see, to what they know. Loudin writes: “Even as a visitor, it’s hard to feel at ease in a hospital. When I reflect on times I’ve spent visiting family in the hospital, I remember the drab waiting rooms and fluorescent, maze-like hallways–spaces that increased my own stress level before I even saw the person I came to visit.”

People find their way in a hospital based on three things:

  • What they know
  • What they’re told
  • What they perceive

What they know may be very little. Most people don’t think of hospitals until a health issue requires a visit. And in many cases, what people believe they know about a facility may have changed: for example, an interior lab they’d used for testing in the past may have moved to an off-site location.

What they’re told relies on anyone who communicates to that potential patient or visitor: a centralized scheduling system, a referring physician, a pre-visit letter, instructions in an electronic medical record (EMR) platform, to name a few. In the lab example above, their family doc would need to tell them that the lab is no longer located inside the hospital, and her instructions would need to be written accordingly even as she specifies the required tests.

What they perceive is what the environment tells them. While the design of intuitive spaces is a key component of wayfinding, equally important is the information shared in the environment. This needs to match what they’ve been told, especially if the information is new to them. Again, the lab example requires multiple layers of communication support:

  • Operations, which decided to move the lab, directs Facilities to make the move.
  • Communications assures that internal and external patient-facing staff are informed of the change.
  • Once moved, all digital, printed and signage tools are updated accordingly.

When changes like this occur, these and other “dominoes need to fall” in order to keep the patient properly informed, and by extension, less stressed.

The author then asserts that patient experience metrics directly impact funding: “Facilities receiving poor reviews are put in the impossible situation of having to improve service while being continually underfunded. When a hospital is operating on a shoestring budget, the first things to be sacrificed are exactly the items that help shape a patient’s experience positively.” The items he mentions are patient rooms, staff workspaces and competitive wages.

The Oregon Health & Science University is an example of a complex physical environment made simpler through effective wayfinding tools.

The Oregon Health & Science University is an example of a complex physical environment made simpler for patients and visitors by applying effective wayfinding information & design.

We’d submit that a well-designed, integrated wayfinding system creates an informational infrastructure that improves patient experiences which costs, in many cases, much less than making wholesale changes to the built environment. From our work in complex healthcare environments, we’ve seen that patients who are empowered to find their own way, based on what they’re told and what they perceive, report improved experiences.

Healthcare designers need to account for both their clients’ physical and informational environments. This is the essence of effective wayfinding. By doing this, we can design a complete ecosystem of tools to support Human Centered Healthcare Design.

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Corbin Design, a national leader in wayfinding planning and signage design, announced Shelley Steele has been named President. Steele formerly served as vice president of marketing.

As president, Steele is primarily responsible for the vision and direction of Corbin Design as well as the internal leadership and management of the staff. In her new role, she will continue to oversee business development and marketing.

“With her knowledge of the… More...

As we develop wayfinding systems for a variety of clients, we appreciate how public engagement is critical to the design process. Here, we share two examples from recent client groups and the outcomes of those sessions:

Ochsner Medical Center, New Orleans LA

We led a prototype process on the interior of this complex medical campus to test proposed logic changes and as a “proof of concept” for wayfinding tools. The exercise was designed to… More...

The FHWA has issued a clarification on the ruling it issued on January 25, 2016 terminating the Interim Approval of Clearview as an alternate font to the MUTCD. With regard to community wayfinding signage systems, the use of alternate fonts is still possible.

To summarize:

  • Projects currently in fabrication do not need to comply.
  • To the extent possible, projects currently in design should switch to the

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