The Lost Patient

With many hospitals today encompassing over a million square feet, the average patient spends more time looking for their appointment than actually attending the appointment itself. With floor two looking like floor three, oncology looking like neurology, and one hallway mirroring the next, hospitals and doctors alike are finding that a portion of missed appointments are simply the result of poor wayfinding of the facility. Many doctors may consider an appointment missed if a patient is merely running late by 15 to 20 minutes, and clinics and hospitals may have no-show rates ranging from five to 20, or even 50% costing the United States health-care system upwards of $150 billion a year! This is not only an issue in the United States but is also a global concern. The United Kingdom reported that approximately 12 million medical appointments are missed each year resulting in a staggering £750 million in costs due to missed hospital visits alone.

There are many factors that contribute to patients missing their appointments, one of the most significant of which is the difficulty in locating their appointment rooms. Many hospitals are beginning to follow the example set by shopping malls and airports by implementing better wayfinding options throughout the interior of the building, even going so far as to include interactive displays to facilitate navigation. This is an admirable push in the right direction, but why does wayfinding at the hospital have to start inside the hospital? It shouldn’t! A patient’s journey begins in the parking area, not at the front doors of the building.

With close to $1 billion being awarded to hospitals based on patient satisfaction scores, it is obvious administrations are scrounging for every possible way to obtain and retain happy patients. Let’s be honest; today a happy patient means money in the bank, and without money in the bank, the hospital will not stay open. One of the most stressful aspects of visiting a hospital is just trying to navigate the building. As a vendor, I have to arrive at least 20 minutes early so I can properly navigate where to park and then make my way to my meeting location. If I have to do this, doesn’t that mean patients must do the same? Of course it does! Patients may be required to plan their trips to the doctor the night before to ensure they are on time to their appointments. Patients are now anxious before they even step foot on the property— potentially harming patient satisfaction scores. So, wouldn’t it make much more sense to implement navigational aids before the patient enters the building? Yes it does, and there are many ways to aid the hospital from the parking area.

Typically, once you find the proper parking area, it can be as much of a challenge to determine how to enter the hospital as it is to navigate to your final appointment once you are in the building. I find it quite a relief to find parking ambassadors in the parking area that are knowledgeable about the hospital layout and can provide clear, precise directions. To supplement this, clear and concise wayfinding maps/signage placed throughout the entire parking area are crucial. Signage in a garage is pretty standard, but is it pointing patients to their final destinations? Preferably, the maps/signage should be interactive because, in my experience, most maps are vague. Interactive maps can echo the experience of the smartphone map apps that so many of us have grown accustomed to using day after day.

Speaking of technology, the best solution on the market, in my opinion, is mobile wayfinding technology. By placing Bluetooth beacons throughout the garage and hospital, patients can now have step-by-step navigation through an app on their mobile device directly to the department they are trying to reach. These can even be utilized from the second patients pull out of their driveways. The patients receive GPS directions to the parking area then park their cars and receive step-by-step directions via Bluetooth beacons to their desired departments inside the hospital. Imagine how much anxiety will be reduced for patients if they have 100% confidence in arriving at their appointments easily and on time. Not to mention the reduced impact of the billions of dollars lost to missed appointments! There is already an active push to help patients easily navigate hospitals, but the patient has to make it inside first, and with value-based care being top priority, parking directors need to view this as an integral part of their operations.

Patients may often be late to doctors’ appointments due to their own accountability, but there is no reason for absence due to the complexity of the hospital structure. Particularly since we live in a day and age when people can literally pull out of their driveways with absolutely zero planning and easily drive to a destination 1,500 miles away without stress. Navigating a hospital should be no different. Wayfinding aids in the hospital are great, but more often than not, it can be just as much of a struggle to park your car in the proper location and then easily navigate to the wayfinding aids inside the building. This is why wayfinding should start from the moment patients park their vehicles or, better yet, when they leave home.

How stressful has it been for you navigating to your destination in a hospital, and what features have you seen in and around the building that have reduced the complexity of navigation? What aids have you seen in the parking area?

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