For hospitals: Don't get lost on your way to better wayfinding

Three years ago, administrators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Medicine decided to tackle the issue of patients and visitors getting lost on its immense campus. They started a wayfinding task force to look for solutions that could reduce missed or late appointments, boost patient satisfaction, and prevent visitors from stopping employees to ask for directions during work hours.

Although the task force did find low-tech options, UAB Medicine decided to join a group of other health systems to focus on solving this common challenge. The group, convened by Avia, a partner with Modern Healthcare in developing content for the Transformation Hub, eventually identified New York City-based Connexient as their winning vendor because its technology appealed to every age group, from the tech-savvy to technophobes..

“For us, Connexient was the most well-rounded of the finalists in that they still had a paper map component,” said Jordan DeMoss, senior associate vice president at UAB Medicine. “They had an integrated approach that utilized a web-based version as well as a navigation app.”

One of the major challenges facing the hospital systems in the group was defining the key problem — developing a system that could be used by every visitor or patient. Only then were they able to whittle down the number of potential vendors from three dozen to one, a process that took six months.

Last October, UAB Medicine kicked off deployment of Connexient’s MediNav Navigator across its campus. The digital wayfinding tool provides indoor GPS and turn-by-turn directions via mobile device, web, and kiosk. It also allows for printing of customized maps, which greatly appealed to DeMoss and his colleagues.

“What we have now is a paper map that staff members are using to highlight a route from one building to the next,” said Adrienne Steading, Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy at UAB Medicine. “With Connexient, a customized map that highlights the route to one specific clinic in a building can be printed, texted to a phone, or viewed on the web.”

For the first phase of implementation, paper maps will remain an essential part of UAB’s wayfinding system to accommodate its diverse range of visitors. The new wayfinding system with navigation app and updated paper maps is expected to be fully operational in June.

The hospitals in the group were also attracted to the relative simplicity of the hardware installation. While other digital wayfinding vendors use Wi-Fi for their positioning technology, Connexient relies on low-cost, easy-to-install Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. That avoided the need to install power-connected routers throughout the complex, a costly endeavor.

BLE beacons, on the other hand, are available for as low as $60 per unit. DeMoss and his colleagues liked that implementation of MediNav with BLE beacons wouldn’t require building new infrastructure to extend positioning services to buildings, parking lots, and garages. Connexient has achieved tested, reliable accuracy of 1 to 2 meters in hospital environments with these devices.

Currently, implementation of Connexient’s technology is in the mapping phase. Because UAB Medicine’s campus encompasses such a large area and number of buildings, this step poses many challenges for Connexient. Yet, mapping must be completed with utmost accuracy.

“The hardest part is mapping the whole facility, and doing so with enough rigor and detail,” said DeMoss. “Connexient knows that we want a partner and not just a product, so we have a weekly project call with the company as well as a project manager on-site.”

As Connexient works on building the master map, site audits are performed to make sure map labels read correctly. The next step will be adding UAB Medicine’s 1,600 physicians to a directory so patients can get door-to-door directions to their offices. However, this will require integration between MediNav and the hospital scheduling system, since doctors practice in different places depending on the day.

Once the system is up and running this summer, UAB Medicine will be able to provide a number of wayfinding perks for patients, visitors, and staff. For instance, it is building a parking planner that will tell users which is the best place to park based on where they’re going for an appointment. It will also remember where they parked.

“The main goal is to reduce the anxiety and stress on people when they get here in order to provide a better experience for patients and their families,” said DeMoss. “A better wayfinding system is really about adding value to the patient’s visit and increasing their satisfaction with UAB.”

Meeri Kim is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.”