Digital Wayfinding – One small step for the NHS but a big step for patient and staff empowerment by Mike Farrar

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Whilst digital wayfinding may not as yet be common parlance in the NHS, it may be that its emergence in the coming years heralds a mindset shift of sizeable proportion on the part of Trusts and their management culture.

Wayfinding refers to information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space. Its presence in many sectors has been established for some time but it is only just beginning to emerge in the modern NHS. Yet its application to the confusing landscape of many hospitals and healthcare facilities is obvious.

How many patients and staff have driven endlessly around the peripheral roads of our hospitals looking for the right car park, or trailed through endless corridors and waiting areas trying to locate the specific department? Indeed, how many of us can recall following the yellow line on the floor only to be thwarted when a newly laid concrete or floor disrupted our line for it never to reappear? And all of this happening with patients, and families, often at their most anxious and with permanent staff about to be late for shifts, or key meetings whilst locum staff face even more challenges. 

This may seem small beer, but the development of wayfinding apps and systems plus their application in the NHS would signal a major change in our historic mentality. The NHS belongs to the people and we as its managerial and clinical custodians need to ensure it is provided as conveniently, safely and effectively as possible. By offering the wayfinding systems and services we are explicitly saying we are patient-centric, we recognise the problems that people have when anxiously attending our services and we give them the easiest route to make appointments, arrive on time at the right place, understand via the app where they should park, or book in, and even get information on the experience they will have and the preparation they need to make before they arrive. 

Ask Croydon, one of the first UK NHS Trusts to embark on the system that is deployed successfully in a number of hospitals in the USA including the Cleveland Clinic and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Driven by a similar desire to enable and empower patients, the Trust is aiming to replicate the benefits experienced by healthcare providers in the United States where they have seen: 

  • increased patient experience ratings 
  • reduced DNAs
  • improved staff experience 
  • less congested parking 
  • better prepared and less anxious patients 

All of this plus the benefit of signalling the Trusts patient-centred culture. Digital wayfinding may not be a guarantee of the quality of clinical intervention but its deployment is almost always a signal of an organisation that cares deeply about quality in the round (i.e., patient experience as well as reduced waiting times or improved care outcomes).

The development of wayfinding should be a major consideration for the national teams approving the new hospital programme and its designs. A modern and model NHS hospital, fit for the future, should have this technology built into its DNA from the onset. There is no excuse for beneficiaries of this programme and its new money. But equally, in the ‘rabbit warrened’ corridors of our older estate, wayfinding could and should be a valuable new asset for all concerned.

Equally, in the world of staff shortages, flexible working and heavy reliance on a locum workforce these same applications can deliver huge benefits for temporary staff, enabling them to work efficiently and differentiating Trusts who can provide that along with the shifts and the pay. A Trust that considers this for its temporary staff must be worth working for too…..

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