How Improving Patient Wayfinding Sets You Apart from Competitors

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Most people in healthcare have heard of patient wayfinding or have at least an idea of what it is, even if the term isn’t the one they’d use. However, it probably doesn’t top many people’s lists as a factor that can differentiate you from competitors. After all, a sign is a sign, right?

Here’s why that might not be the case, and why patient wayfinding should be something you give serious consideration to when trying to improve patient engagement and satisfaction.

What is Patient Wayfinding?

It’s easy to assume that patient wayfinding is all about signs — and yes, signs are a big part of it  — but it’s really about so much more than what adorns your organisation's walls.  Aided by advances in technology, modern patient wayfinding is an attempt to understand how a patient receives and acts upon information about their appointment, medical procedure, or other interactions with the healthcare environment.

This in mind, perhaps the best working definition for it is:

‘The tools and functions that help patients find their way around a healthcare facility.’

See 9 ways new technology can transform the patient experience in our  infographic.

How Does Good Patient Wayfinding Differentiate You from Competitors?

It’s quite simple. Remember the last time you visited an unfamiliar hospital? It was probably a little disorientating, you’re usually met with a wall of noise, people scurrying in all directions and multiple doors leading who-knows-where.

Healthcare facilities are often inherently complex, particularly given the decentralised layout of most modern hospitals. For patients, this can mean having to navigate multiple departments or buildings in a single visit — simple if they know where they’re going, incredibly stressful if not.

The ramifications for patient experience and satisfaction are obvious. If patients feel disoriented or lost, this only compounds an experience that few people enjoy to begin with. According to Healthcare Design Magazine, the frustration of getting lost ranks among the top complaints made by visitors to healthcare facilities. And, while patients will initially blame themselves — assuming they’ve misread or misheard directions —they’ll eventually turn that frustration towards the healthcare provider.

As well as the obvious ill-effects on patients, it’s also unlikely to create a positive impression of your organisation — leading to difficulty retaining patients and ultimately losing patients to competitors who’ve given more thought to patient wayfinding.

For all that, the inverse is also true. Improving patient wayfinding can set your organisation apart in a few key areas:

  • Improved patient flow and shorter wait times for appointments
  • Better patient experience
  • Increased patient engagement, particularly with non-native English speakers
  • Frees staff from answering queries and allows them to spend more time on patient outreach and pastoral tasks

All of which leads to greater patient satisfaction levels and generates a positive reputation for your organisation. This not only helps you with patient retention, it’s also likely to boost acquisition rates.

What Does Good Patient Wayfinding Look Like?

Let’s start with the obvious: of course clear, well-placed signs are crucial to good patient wayfinding. Whether those signs are traditional totem or slat style signs or modern digital displays, positioning them at strategic points around your site and ensuring they're easy to understand should be the baseline for your patient wayfinding.

However, contemporary research into patient wayfinding has revealed that signage alone may not enough, and, in truth, your organisation should aspire to more if the aim is to set yourself apart. This means considering extending patient wayfinding to areas such as:

Patient-friendly language

This just means eschewing medical jargon for simple language or even images on signs or maps. For a lot of patients, terms like “Pathology” and “Urology” don’t mean anything and directions that use verbose medical language are alienating and disorientating.

For example, “Otolaryngology” is replaced with “Ear, Nose, and Throat Care” and “Gastroenterology” with "Digestive Care". You could even take it a step further and cut out language altogether by using graphic symbols. For instance, a heart graphic could replace cardiology or a set of lungs could substitute for pulmonology — not only making things easier for native-speaking patients but also providing instantly understandable symbols for non-fluent patients.

Integration with check-in

Another option is to integrate your patient wayfinding with the check-in process. The most popular way to achieve this is the inclusion of interactive maps within patient self-check-in kiosks. Integrating the two means your patients know where they’re going from the minute they arrive, hopefully negating the risk of them getting lost.

Directions Delivered Pre-appointment

How you deliver the directions will depend on your organisation and the tools at your disposal. You could share them through a healthcare app or via SMS, you could even email directions to patients before their appointment — what’s important is giving visitors everything they need before they’re on-site.

Multilingual Signs

Multilingual signage is quickly becoming standard in practices and hospitals, particularly those in major urban centres such as Sydney and Melbourne. This is all part of the healthcare industry's drive to keep pace with Australia’s blossoming cultural diversity and there are a number of practical things you can do to make it a reality.

Firstly, by using digital signage to display the most commonly spoken languages in the facility’s local community. Although it should be pointed out, this does have its disadvantages — most prominently the limited space on any given display.

Another option is to offer self-check-in kiosks with an inbuilt translation option. This has none of the problems with the digital signage route, as you’re only constrained by the number of languages available through the kiosk’s software.


Improving your patient wayfinding is a relatively simple and cost-effective means of distinguishing your organisation from competitors. All healthcare organisations employ wayfinding methods to some degree, but few realise its importance — often resulting in a system that’s dated, confusing and fails to take evolving patient needs into account.

It should also be an important part of your wider patient engagement strategy. Simple wayfinding has a role to play in making healthcare more accessible to your patients, itself a big part of engagement. To learn more about patient wayfinding and other methods of boosting patient engagement, download our ebook on the subject or check out our infographic:

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