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OM in the News: A Cure for Hospital Design

February 7, 2014
Directional guiding hospital kiosk

Directional guiding hospital kiosk

Endless corridors that seem to lead nowhere. Poorly marked entrances. Multiple elevator banks and incomprehensible signs. “Hospitals,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 4, 2014), ” are realizing they have a design problem as patients and visitors struggle to navigate the maze of the modern medical complex.” Confusing layouts and signage add to patients’ anxiety at a time when many are feeling ill and are coming to the hospital to undergo tests and procedures.

Now, many hospitals are borrowing strategies from shopping malls and airports to make it easier for people to get around—a process design experts call wayfinding. Technical names for departments, such as Otolaryngology, are being replaced on signs with plain language—Ear, Nose and Throat.

Confusing layouts can result from years of hospital renovations and building additions. When hospitals expand they often fail to update their signs for multiple new entrances, wings and unconnected buildings. At Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota, patients from distant ranching and farming communities frequently complained about finding their way through the 650,000-square-foot complex. So medical jargon directing patients to Antepartum and Postpartum services, for instance, was changed to Labor and Delivery. The Rapid City hospital, which spent about $300,000 on its wayfinding project, installed direction-finding digital information kiosks at each of the three entrances. Different patient areas were given a different color code. If patients or visitors look lost, employees are expected to stop what they are doing and offer to help, even to escort them to their destination.

Universal symbols to help people find departments have caught on in some hospitals, especially when patients speak various languages. The symbols, such as a teddy bear to signal the pediatrics department, have reduced patient confusion at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why are hospital layouts often confusing?

2. What can be done, besides the ideas noted in the WSJ, to improve flows?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Donnelly permalink
    February 7, 2014 8:06 pm

    I can really relate to this article. Two major hospitals in Delaware, Christiana Hospital and Wilmington Hospital, have gone through major renovations over the past several years which has resulted in very large and very confusing layouts. One of their strategies has been to educate hospital employees to be more “customer focused” and to proactively ask individuals with confused looks on their faces if they need help. I have personally experienced this type of assistance.

    Another Delaware hospital, A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children, has taken another approach. They have used bright, inviting colors throughout the hospital to guide people to their destination. You literally “follow the yellow brick road” to the x-ray department! The color schemes also help reduce anxiety that many children feel when in a hospital environment.

  2. February 8, 2014 3:03 am

    Thanks, Professor Donnelly. Hospitals are certainly an arena where operations management can make a significant impact in so many ways. Jay and I created seven video case studies on Arnold Palmer Hospital and found OM, process analysis, TQM, layout, and JIT to be important factors in how the organization was run.

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