Why We Get Lost – Agglutination in Healthcare Environments

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Using exclusive insights from Exit Design and Purple’s partnership, our new blog series will help untangle the complexity of healthcare wayfinding and what you can do to help visitors navigate your space with ease, ultimately positively impacting the patient experience. We’ll help you to untangle the complexity of navigating the healthcare environment and how visitors move around your space. 

Failed Wayfinding Systems

​​It won’t take long to think of the last time this happened to you…You arrive at the hospital for an important appointment. You have ‘3rd Floor Suite 315W’ scrawled on a piece of paper, for direction. 

You make your way to Floor 3—no Room 315. You ask a passing employee, who says, “Oh the West garage would’ve been better! You want 3rd Floor West. The connector bridge is down this hallway. Once you’re over it, find the orange elevators—stay to your left near the coffee cart. Walk past the imaging labs and it’s the second desk on the right. If you see the double doors to surgery, you’ve gone too far.”

And, you’re lost. This is not your fault. 

The wayfinding system has failed you, and there was no easy way to remember the string of directions you were given. The anxiety that can come with a visit to any complex facility like a hospital, university campus, airport or public transit system is universal. 

Changing facilities require updated Wayfinding 

Through hundreds of surveys and research studies with hospital staff, patients and visitors, Exit Design found that approximately 800,000 verbal directions are given per year in the average 1 million square foot healthcare facility.

One of the reasons for this, is that healthcare facilities expand over time, with one original building turning into many through the years. When facilities expand, wayfinding becomes very complex. Old signage that may have worked before no longer works for a more complex environment. Interim signs are put up, old and newly designed signs are intermingled, and the voice of the wayfinding system becomes unclear. What results is a sort of signage graffiti—a mess of unhelpful visuals littering the built environment instead of a consistent system promoting ease, clarity, and (dare we say) moments of joy in the user journey. 


We call this expansion problem “agglutination.” A term borrowed from the medical field, agglutination is ‘a reaction in which particles (such as red blood cells or bacteria) collect into clumps.’ Or, more simply, the more colloquial Webster definition: ‘a mass or group formed by the union of separate elements.’ 

Agglutination wreaks havoc on the wayfinding user experience, and your brand identity can suffer, too.

Consider this: a hospital founded nearly a century ago begins as a single building, but additions of buildings, wings, and parking structures complicate our understanding of places. Agglutination generates multiple paths of travel and creates serious problems for patients, visitors and staff. Soon we have a spidery conglomerate of streets, halls and walls that needs to work together, but cannot do so efficiently. 

Just as the clumping of cells can slow circulation and lead to disease, the addition of buildings and connectors can slow the circulation of people navigating a facility and lead to lost visitors.

Find out more about how to create a great visitor experience, and untangle the complexity of navigating the healthcare environment in our blog series, with exclusive insights from Exit and Purple.

Who is Exit Design?

Exit Design produces comprehensive wayfinding and signage systems to help Healthcare organizations promote their brand and enhance their patient experience. Exit’s solutions work alongside Purple’s digital wayfinding solution to provide the best experience for visitors within hospital and healthcare facilities. 

For more information on our partnership click here

Want to chat? Grab some time with Exit Designs Kelly Jennings and Purple’s Christina Kiplock via Calendly.

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