Designing for a new healthcare facility is always exciting. Our wayfinding + signage team works closely with the entire design team to get a clear understanding of their goals and vision for the circulation of patients, visitors, and staff. This vision forms the backbone of a fresh new wayfinding strategy.
But a good share of our work involves identifying issues and providing solutions for wayfinding in existing facilities.
To get an understanding of these ongoing issues, we meet with staff, patient advocates, volunteers, and security in large group meetings and small focus groups. These meetings provide us with a wealth of information about the issues. We hear it all: not enough signs, too many signs, inconsistent messaging, out-of-date information on websites, etc. Unfortunately, the information gathered is often “tainted.” For example, staff members influence each other’s opinions. Patients and visitors, recalling experiences they had weeks or months ago, forget details and remember things differently.
This is where the intercept interview comes in. As its name suggests, this type of interview is meant to intercept the interviewee during their experience. This way, the data—and emotions—are fresh.
To get in position for intercept interviews, we ask the hospital to send out an email to all staff, letting them know that for two or three days, several people in (HDR) red polo shirts will be walking and driving around the facility, interviewing staff, visitors, volunteers, and patients about their wayfinding experience. Then several members of our wayfinding team begin surveying the exterior and interior wayfinding in every corner of the facility. Armed with our clipboards and “Lost? Ask Me” nametags, we approach various people for intercept interviews.
Here’s how it works. First, we record information on time of day and location as well as demographic information about the interviewee. Then gauge their stress level using a simple chart. Once this baseline information has been gleaned, we ask specific questions about the wayfinding system in the facility. Since interview information is kept anonymous, even the staff is very open about issues they have recognized. To get a good cross-section of information, our goal is to conduct between 30 and 40 intercept interviews.
When we are finished with our interviews, we go back and crunch the data. Our final deliverable is a printed User Experience Assessment, detailing our findings and recommendations. Though most hospitals are convinced they know what their wayfinding issues are, we consistently uncover new issues and different priorities. For instance, one of our clients told us their main wayfinding issue was that their signage was not visible enough. What we found was that their wayfinding system was so dysfunctional that most users had abandoned and went straight to asking directions from staff members. In our assessment, we cited a study by Zimring that estimated the cost of confusion in a large regional hospital to be almost $400,000 annually, much of which was in the hidden cost of staff time spent giving directions (4,500 hours—the equivalent of more than two full-time employees).*
This data helps to prove the value of this type of exercise. Although this is a new method for our group, some of our recommendations have already been implemented and proven effective. Even the clients who have not been able to implement any of our recommendations yet have been very thankful. This is backed up by their recommendations of HDR to other hospital systems and facilities.
*Study was conducted in 1990 by Zimring. Study took place at Emory Hospital – a 604-bed hospital. $400,000 number is adjusted for inflation in 2013; the original 1990 number was $220,000.
Image courtesy of HDR