Photo courtesy of HKS Inc.

Photo courtesy of HKS Inc.

Identifying Elements of the Healthcare Environment that Contribute to Wayfinding

Read the journal paper here


Debajyoti Pati (PI), Tom Harvey, and Sipra Pati

Douglas Willis, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Dallas, TX, USA

Military Health System, US Department of Defense

What was the aim

The study objective was to identify aspects of the physical environment that inform wayfinding for visitors. Compare and contrast the identified elements in frequency of use. Gain an understanding of the role the different elements and attributes play in the wayfinding process.

Why is it important

Wayfinding by patients and visitors is a documented problem in healthcare facilities. The few studies that have been conducted have identified some of the environmental elements that influence wayfinding. Moreover, literatures comparing different design strategies are absent. Currently there is limited knowledge to inform prioritization of strategies to optimize wayfinding within capital budget.

What we did

A multi-method, non-experimental, qualitative, exploratory study design was adopted. The study was conducted in a large, acute care facility in Texas. Ten healthy adults in five age groups, representing both sexes, participated in the study as simulated visitors. Data collection included (a) verbal protocols during navigation; (b) questionnaire; and (c) verbal directions from hospital employees. Data were collected during Fall 2013.

What we found

Physical design elements contributing to wayfinding include signs, architectural features, maps, interior elements (artwork, display boards, information counters, etc.), functional clusters, interior elements pairing, structural elements, and furniture. The information is used in different ways - some for primary navigational information, some for supporting navigational information, and some as familiarity markers.

What is next

Future studies should examine the subject profile, including people with other levels of education and income, people not proficient in English as well as using actual patients and visitors as opposed to simulated ones. Several concepts and phenomenon of theoretical and practical importance emerged in this study that warrant further examination include (1) continuous where I am evaluation by subjects, (2) destination feature prediction, (3) creation and use of anchor points, and (4) familiarity markers as landmarks and the expanded definition of landmark for way-finding in building interiors. Furthermore, repetition of the study in multiple health care facilities will enable identification of common themes and provide greater credibility to the findings.