The 7 Signs Of Bad Hospital Wayfinding

Hospital wayfinding is simply the process of finding your way in and through a hospital. And if you’re in a hospital odds are you don’t want to be. If you aren’t a hospital employee or contractor, chances are you or someone you care about is in need of medical attention, and those are oftentimes uncertain, scary times.


Enter hospital wayfinding; the unsung hero that will give patients and visitors confidence to navigate often complex healthcare campuses and buildings. Or, as we often see at PLANIT Studios, wayfinding serves as the invisible villain destroying patient and visitor experiences, frustrating staff, and costing healthcare providers millions of dollars.


Below are 7 signs of bad hospital wayfinding and how to stop them.




1. “The Twirl"

Next time you’ve got some time to kill in a hospital go sit in the lobby and watch people (in a non-creepy way). What you will see is what we infamously call “the twirl”. This happens when a patient or visitor is walking in the direction they think will lead them to their destination until suddenly realize that wherever they’re going, is not the right way. They don’t just turn. They twirl.


This is the most obvious sign of bad hospital wayfinding and can almost always be chalked up to signage that is lacking, unclear, or misleading. Oftentimes, it’s a clear sign of an even larger problem; the lack of a true wayfinding strategy.




2. Overwhelming Amounts of Signage

Imagine fifteen people talking to you at the same time. Some are yelling, others whispering and several in a normal tone. This is often the experience for patients and visitors who are overwhelmed by the amount of signage throughout their hospital experience. Hospital wayfinding exists to empower and direct people in an often powerless situation. It has many goals whether it be getting patients to appointments on time, increasing patient satisfaction ratings, or creating brand awareness amongst other things.


But, bad hospital wayfinding often sacrifices a realistic set of goals that elevate the hospital and patient experience because it tries to do too much. Too many signs, too many colors, too many messages. When fifteen people are talking not much is heard.




3. Unreadable Signs

Wayfinding design is sometimes reduced to subjective commentary and favorite colors for signs. But good, successful signage is designed to be accessible for all. It is possible for signage to be, or at least appear high quality while integrating the hospital’s typeface in large, bold letters that stand out clearly against a color associated with the department or zone. So why isn’t this the norm?


The truth is that hospital wayfinding often begins with good intentions. Even in the image above you will see zoned colors, contrast, and brand integration. But you will also see small letters, numerous messages, and the visual manifestation of stress emanating from the sheer number of signs located from the floor to the ceiling.


Signage that is missed, whether because of small text size, poor placement, lacking contrast, or its mass of competition is another common sign of bad hospital wayfinding.



4. Staff Walk People Places

It’s always nice being walked places. It delivers a personal touch and tells visitors, “You’re important.” But when a hospital’s norm is physicians and staff feeling the need to help wandering visitors it often creates a chain reaction. Odds are that person may be late to their appointment already and the physician is now late to surgery, where she quickly heads now frustrated that “nobody in this hospital knows where they’re going.”


Other visitors simply want to find their loved ones. They don’t want to stop and ask for help. In an age of self-service, visitors liken themselves to wayfinding experts with none of the qualifications.

When bad hospital wayfinding makes visitors ask for help it introduces yet another time throughout their hospital experience where they feel out of control.


A cohesive wayfinding strategy empowers visitors to find their way and maximizes staff positions. The introduction of digital wayfinding elements such as kiosks and Mazemap have done even more in the past decade to empower visitors to self-serve and find their way.



5. Marketing > Wayfinding

Ahh, the battle between the marketing department and the wayfinding or facilities teams. Both are incredibly important in a healthy hospital, but when marketing supersedes wayfinding, patients and visitors suffer. We love marketing, but when collaboration breaks down and their team stands victorious, it’s often the rest of the staff, patients, and visitors who lose.


A thriving hospital is marked by collaboration between the marketing and wayfinding teams and results in confident visitors who have also informed customers, more willing to remember and engage with hospital marketing efforts. However, when marketing banners cover and dwarf signage visitors are left with a reminder to wear their mask as they wander your halls.



Patients Are Regularly Late For Appointments

If you’re a numbers person, this one is for. A hospital KPI isn’t just appointments, but when patients and physicians are arriving at them. Bad hospital wayfinding can be identified by the number of late arrivals. Let’s be honest, everyone shows up late once in a while, but a consistently high number of late arrivals to appointments is representative of a larger problem. This, combined with the other signs of bad hospital wayfinding begins spawning issues that stunt both short and long-term growth.


These issues stem from frustrated physicians and staff members to large financial losses. If patients and, in turn, physicians are consistently late to appointments it’s no surprise that soon they stop showing up at all. This brings us to the final sign of bad wayfinding...



7. Losing Patients To Other Hospitals

“Why are we seeing fewer patients?” This question has many answers, but seldom do hospitals jump to “Wayfinding!” The truth is when wayfinding isn’t a priority, patients and visitors don’t know it, they feel it. Feeling lost and confused in a hospital takes what can be a troublesome, painful experience and makes it even worse. If patients and visitors can’t find their way into the hospital easily it’s a problem. But if, after they’ve found their destination, received care, and still cannot find their way out, it is disastrous.


Bad hospital wayfinding is associated with lower levels of care, and lower levels of care undeniably cause more and more patients to walk out of hospital doors never to return. Most hospital wayfinding begins successfully because smaller spaces are much easier to traverse. But, as hospitals grow and expand and different architects and firms design different spaces wayfinding begins to become increasingly difficult.





Are you looking to position your organization for growth in the next decade? Our innovative team of designers and landscape architects specialize in solving problems to elevate your audience’s experience by designing and creating loyal customers that become lifetime ambassadors.


Whether you are part of a large healthcare system, university campus, or small business we would be honored to bring our creativity and expertise to your organization and the spaces your customers live. Learn more about PLANIT Studios and schedule a free consultation click here or call (614) 505-0375.

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