What is Patient Wayfinding?

Back to blog Patient Check-In

Provided you’ve worked in healthcare for any time at all , chances are, you’ve heard of patient wayfinding. You may well know what it is – or can make an educated guess thanks to the self-explanatory name. However, what you might be less aware of are the benefits of utilising patient wayfinding technology in your practice or hospital and the methods available for doing so.

Starting off simply; patient wayfinding is best defined as the tools and functions that help patients find their way around a healthcare facility.

Many people’s first reaction to this definition is “oh, you mean signs”, and, yes, signs are a big part of it. However, patient wayfinding increasingly goes much further than this, with healthcare providers attempting to understand how a patient receives and acts upon information about their appointment, medical procedure, or other interactions with the healthcare environment.

Why is Patient Wayfinding Important?

Healthcare facilities are often inherently complex. Combine this with the decentralised nature of modern hospital care and patients often find themselves trying to navigate several departments, or even buildings, during a single visit.

This complexity can leave patients feeling disorientated or lost, compounding what’s often already a trying and anxious situation. In fact, according to Healthcare Design Magazine, the frustration of getting lost ranks among the top complaints made by visitors to healthcare facilities. While patients will initially blame themselves, assuming they’ve misheard or misread directions, their frustration is quickly redirected toward the healthcare organisation itself.

This has a significant negative impact on patient experience, patient satisfaction, and the way patients view both your organisation and their own healthcare. If left unchecked, it can lead to disengagement, increased anxiety about attending hospital or surgery appointments, and, ultimately, inferior healthcare outcomes. 

Discover how to improve the patient experience in your organisation. Download  your free eBook now.

Are There Any Benefits to Improving Patient Wayfinding?

The benefits of good patient wayfinding can be divided broadly in two: those that positively affect the patient and those that deliver operational and efficiency advantages to healthcare organisations.

Patient Outcomes

Wayfinding can positively influence patient outcomes in a number of ways. Firstly (and most obviously), patients who can easily navigate a healthcare environment are less likely to suffer from the increased anxiety and stress associated with visiting a hospital or doctor's surgery. More relaxed patients is in itself a benefit, but it’s also likely to create more positive patient experiences—something that can deliver important clinical benefits to patients, as well as emotional.

Secondly, modern patient wayfinding tools such as digital signage can aid in making healthcare more accessible to all. An example of this is adjustable content-sizing and audio-visual aids for visually impaired patients, as well as multilingual signage for organisations with ethnically diverse patient populations.

Operational Benefits

For organisations themselves, patient wayfinding can provide important benefits for staff as well as efficiency savings. Less time spent answering patient queries means administrative workers can be directed to more fruitful tasks such as patient outreach, while clinical staff are freed up to dedicate more time to patient care. This not only has obvious benefits for the patient experience but, in many cases, also reduces employee stress. 

In addition, improving patient wayfinding makes good business sense for healthcare providers in what’s an increasingly marketised system. Improved navigation around your hospital or practice contributes to positive patient experience, which in turn contributes to a positive reputation for your organisation.

What Does Good Patient Wayfinding Look Like in Practice?

In the past, patient wayfinding meant signs, signs and more signs, with healthcare organisations relying upon expensive manual “slat systems” or totem style signs. However, modern research into patient wayfinding has revealed that, while important, signage alone may not enough. This has led to patient wayfinding taking multiple forms, including:

Integration with check-in

Some organisations are looking to improve patient wayfinding by integrating it into the check-in process. Perhaps the best way to achieve this is the inclusion of interactive maps within patient self-check-in kiosks. Integration of the two tools gives healthcare organisations the ability to offer patients directions to their appointment upon arrival, creating a seamless experience for patients.

Delivered in-app or to email

Another approach is delivery of directions or wayfinding instructions directly to the patient’s phone or email inbox. This could occur upon appointment booking, as a reminder closer to the date of the appointment, or both. Equally, some healthcare apps offer in-app maps and directional information alongside appointment booking functions.

Patient-friendly language

We’ve all visited a hospital and been greeted with signs for departments like “Otolaryngology” or “Endocrinology”. For some patients, healthcare's rigid adherence to medical terminology can be confusing and alienate them from their care before it’s even begun.

Thankfully, many healthcare providers are cottoning on to this and are beginning to simplify the language used around the hospital. For instance, “Otolaryngology” is replaced with “Ear, Nose, and Throat Care” and “Gastroenterology” with "Digestive Care". Some are even taking it a step further and replacing words altogether with graphic symbols representing the function of each departmentsay a heart for cardiology or lungs for pulmonology.

This approach not only simplifies the language for the English-speaking public, it also provides understandable communication for non-fluent patients and visitors.

Multilingual signs: Multilingual signage is fast becoming standard in hospitals and practices, as healthcare races to keep up with the UK’s growing cultural diversity. In practice, this can be achieved using a couple of methods. Firstly, by using digital signage to display the most commonly spoken languages in the facility’s local community, although this has the disadvantage of being restricted by the limited space on any given display.

Another option is to offer self-check-in kiosks with an inbuilt translation option. This has one key advantage over the digital signage method: you’re only constrained by how many languages the kiosk’s software can provide.


Patient wayfinding is an important part of delivering a superior patient experience; it’s also a relatively “easy win” compared with other more theoretical aspects of improving healthcare, such as patient engagement.

Simply improving the way in which patients navigate your facility can vastly reduce the stress and disorientation often involved in visiting a large hospital or practice. For more on patient wayfinding and for other methods of boosting patient experience, click here or below to download our ebook How to Improve Patient Experience Within Your Healthcare Organisation”.

New Call-to-action

Back to blog