Umm, hello, where is ICU?

In my clinical and my current career, I've worked in many different hospitals in the capacity as a clinician, in an administrative role or as a student. In all situations, I've had to become familiar with navigating the hospital and to me by far the easiest hospitals for wayfinding have to be either:

  • Royal North Shore Hospital
  • Gold Coast University Hospital

I will not name and shame those ones that are absolutely notoriously difficult to get around, I have my reservations on that. But this is another aspect of user experience or in this case, patient experience that I hadn't consciously been aware of until I started thinking about the many different things that patients experience in the hospital.

The patient journey within the hospital can be digested into a user journey map - there are so many different persons that walk into our doors, but for an easy overview we'll class them in terms of their ages and their status - they're either an outpatient, an emergency acute patient or a pre-planned patient. Therein itself creates a multitude of personas that who each have unique demands of their own. Anyway, I digress, there's a lot I can talk about in UX within healthcare, but I'll save that for another time. Back to the subject matter - wayfinding in hospitals is one thing that patients, families and even clinicians have to face on a daily basis. In the hospital I worked in as a clinician, knowing my way around took up to a month - it gets easier knowing the nooks and crannies when you have been there for a month but not when you're there for the first time.

I can attest the fact that walking into a hospital with confusing signs and wards that sound extremely similar is overwhelming for families visiting the hospital. It isn't the patients that will usually be the ones wayfinding but its the visitors who will be. Coupled with them having the stressors of loved ones being in hospital, the experience of walking into a hospital that looks sterile, institutionalised and difficult to get around is an issue that isn't ideal.

The designs of Royal North Shore Hospital and Gold Coast University Hospital are two examples that I'd like to highlight that focuses on the user experience.

Navigation around RNSH's new building is relatively easy. The user walks into the front entrance that is designed like a shopping mall, with food court areas, coffee carts and small retail shops lining the amphitheatre, creating a space that is removed from the traditional sterile hospital feel. But the highlight isn't about the shopping mall area but it is the success in the wayfinding experience.



The exterior of RNSH is colour-coded into yellow, orange and green. 

The exterior of RNSH is colour-coded into yellow, orange and green - which definitely earmarks the yellow area of the building, orange and so forth. Correspondingly, as visitors walk into the front entrance of RNSH they are met with...


Lifts with Colour Coded Signs

The true innovation is distilled here in this image shown above - as visitors walk in they find the ward they need to go to and are directed to the level and the relevant colour coded lift to visit the right ward. So for going to ICU - take the yellow lift to level 4, genius.

This creates a seamless and integrated experience that accounts for the complexity of a large tertiary hospital yet user friendly enough that it promotes visitor autonomy and flexibility to navigate the hospital with ease. Colour is simple and translatable to all types of user personas that will interact with this environment and it is an effective solution to create ease of wayfinding. Moving forward with new builds happening around in health, distilling to what the user's needs are in terms of the simplest of experiences such as wayfinding will alleviate pain points in their interactions with health care.