Signage is essential for modern society to function, we need signs to help us find our way, keep us safe and to provide important information. This is why we find signs everywhere, from traffic signs to the labels on our clothes. The need for good healthcare signs is exceptionally important as it has to provide a unique set of solutions.
What is the role of healthcare signage?
There are a number of functions that signage systems need to carry out in healthcare environments, these include:
- Directing staff, patients and visitors to and from places within the building.
- Identifying locations so that people know they have arrived at their destination.
- Managing the flow of traffic within a location (from cars and ambulances externally to people and trolleys internally).
- Managing security, medical risk and health and safety.
What issues do healthcare signs have to solve?
To be effective, good healthcare signage has to solve a range of important issues. Here we’ll look at several of them.
According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, poor literacy levels among patients and visitors means that much of the current signage in use is ineffective, with up to half of visitors having problems understanding the medical terminology used on signs. For example, patients not knowing that radiology is where to go for x-rays or phlebotomy for blood tests.
The lack of clearer signs is a leading factor in the number of people missing or turning up late for appointments. Both the RCGP and the Patients Association believe that medical jargon and confusing signs should be replaced in hospitals, clinic and surgeries.
Instead, cardiology should be the heart department, radiology the x-ray department and so forth.
To cater for the many people for whom English is not their first language, the use of commonly recognised symbols is advised where it is practical – such as signs for washing hands or no entry.
One of the issues caused by poor signage is that it impacts on the efficiency of the healthcare centre. When people become lost, it wastes the time of practitioners, patients and visitors. People miss important appointments, schedules are put into chaos and waiting patients face longer delays. At the same time, countless hours of NHS staff time which should be used for the care and treatment of patients is lost helping people to their destination.
With staffing workloads already at elevated levels in the healthcare sector, a good signage system could go some way to alleviating the burden.
A visit to the doctors or a hospital can be an anxious and a stressful time for patients and visitors alike. Unfortunately, a badly designed wayfinding system can exacerbate the problem, making people feel panicked and frightened. Increased stress means people are less likely to take in the visual clues to their whereabouts and this can make them disorientated. It can also result in angry and even violent behaviour towards others. Stress can also have negative effects on a patient’s health, raising blood pressure, increasing fatigue and causing headaches.
A well-designed wayfinding system can help patients and visitors arrive in a much calmer state, improving their wellbeing and reducing the risk to themselves or others.
The very nature of a healthcare environment means there are going to be plenty of people in the building with accessibility problems arising from disability, illness or injury. Good signage is a key factor in ensuring that these people get the most appropriate routes of access to wherever they need to go and that there is no discrimination.
Tips for getting healthcare signs right
Here are some general tips to help healthcare centres make their signs more effective for staff, patients and visitors.
- Any signage system should be used consistently throughout the entire centre or even across a health authority.
- Where appropriate, design signs to include easily understood symbols.
- Use terminology on signs that everyone understands, not just the staff.
- Use neutral or calming colours.
- Place signs at the precise locations where people need them, for example, where people need to make decisions about which lift to take or corridor to go down.
- Avoid overly busy signage by removing anything but essential information.
- Avoid placing signs where they can be obscured.
Healthcare environments can often be large and busy places where things are hard to find and, for many users, challenging to access. At the same time, there is a lot of information that needs displaying. Effective signage makes these environments run smoothly and safely. It reduces risk, lateness, stress and workload, producing a calmer, more orderly and professional place for staff, patients and visitors.
If you work in a healthcare environment and are looking to upgrade your signage, visit our Healthcare Signs page to see how we can help.