Hospitals often comprise multiple floors, wings and even buildings. Such setups allow medical personnel to treat patients in the most efficient way possible, but they can be perplexing to both patients and visitors. Being able to move around a healthcare facility with ease and confidence is vital in times of stress, and confusing or misleading signage hinders navigation and actually increases stress levels. As a result, the implementation of effective wayfinding systems is essential in alleviating any concerns that people might develop when faced with difficult situations. Below we’ll explain some of the physiological and psychological reactions to stress and how they can be reduced by functional wayfinding.
The Consequence of Stressful Healthcare Environments
There are multiple factors that cause stress, and our bodies react to these in a variety of ways. Studies have shown that anxiety raises the amount of cortisol that our bodies produce. Because this hormone is responsible for suppressing our immune systems, we are at a greater risk for illness when we are experiencing stress. Of course, hospitals are less than ideal environments in which to have a weakened immune system. Increased blood pressure and heart rate also result from stress, as does an altered emotional state. Ineffective wayfinding signage serves only to exacerbate these problems. Easing worry with well-designed systems will lessen the chance that visitors will become sick or agitated.
Other stress-related issues concern the manner in which people respond to directional information. For example, consider someone who is unfamiliar with his or her surroundings. No matter the location, he or she feels at least a little uncomfortable if disoriented. But when that location is a hospital where stress levels likely are already increased, the discomfort may be intensified. And the more stress that person feels, the less directional information he or she will be able to process. This is especially true if the information is presented in an ineffectual manner. Badly designed wayfinding signage induces frustration and anger – and rightfully so. It also leads to wasted time if visitors have to ask the staff for directions. All of these problems reflect poorly on the healthcare facility and can affect its reputation and profits in the long run.
Wayfinding Solutions to Minimize Stress for Patients and Visitors
In their groundbreaking book published in 1992, Wayfinding: People, Signs, and Architecture, authors Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini concluded that good wayfinding designs not only are instrumental in helping people navigate built environments with ease, but that they actually promote good health. Their reasoning was that excellent systems provide patients and visitors with the kind of control and empowerment that is necessary in reducing anxiety and fear, stressors that prevent healing.
For wayfinding systems to be effective in healthcare settings, they must instill in people comfort and a sense of security from the time that they park their vehicles to when they are exiting the hospital grounds. This means that wayfinding systems should include all of the following:
- Clearly marked signs and lots that direct people exactly where to park/enter the facility
- Centrally located and easily visible exterior and interior signage that specifically points visitors to desired location
- ADA-Ready™ signs that can be used by anyone, regardless of disability
- Universal symbols that accurately direct illiterate and non-English-speaking individuals to desired location
- Concise, simply worded phrases that minimize confusion and time spent reading information
- Soothing, high-contrast color schemes to ease tension
Individually, each of these design elements will reduce guests’ anxiety. Collectively, they add up to create effective wayfinding systems that will facilitate navigation throughout any healthcare facility.
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