When it comes to signage, those constructing or renovating a healthcare facility must balance the need for a sense of calm with the need for a clear understanding of how to navigate as efficiently as possible through the facility.
Hospitals can be an intimidating maze of hallways and departments for both patients and visitors, and in facilities undergoing change, it is common to encounter inadequate way finding signage. Visitors and patients entering a hospital are often stressed, preoccupied or disoriented and need to know the easiest way into, through and out of the hospital. They also should be able to identify emergency exits and be informed of areas that are unsafe and off limits to them.
Two common problems with older signage are that it often is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and that there are too many unnecessary signs, creating confusing visual clutter. These were key problems faced by the Laurel Regional Hospital of the Dimensions Healthcare System, in Laurel, MD. In 1995, Laurel Regional Hospital began construction on a new addition. A new signage program was implemented to incorporate the design elements of the new structure while complying with ADA requirements and way finding needs.
Updating The Old
The new way finding plan proved to be so effective the Laurel Regional proceeded further to address the problematic issues in their existing facility and began an investment in an updated signage program. The existing signs were original to the hospital. Much of the tactile and Braille was taped onto the sign faces, leaving a less than aesthetic appearance. Also, there was little uniformity throughout the facility, and visitors often had difficulty finding their way.
After weighing their options and budgetary considerations, Laurel Regional decided to gradually integrate new signs with the existing ones. They hired a programmer to simplify and improve their signage. The programmer studied their people and workflow to identify what old signs should be eliminated and what new signs should be added.
The first step was to update the evacuation maps. The hospital combined their floor directories with window evacuation maps on each floor. These signs navigate people around each floor and enable then to exit the facility with efficiency in the case of an emergency. After the directories were installed, Laurel Regional moved forward with updating all of the signage throughout their facility.
Updating and implementing a signage standards program is a long-term commitment for Laurel Regional Hospital but a wise one. Effective wayfinding is critical to the safety and well-being of patients, visitors and staff and represents an important investment for this and all healthcare facilities. Proper planning and careful selection of signage products is money well spent.
"Reproduction by permission from FacilityCare magazine. Copyright 2004, Douglas Publications, Inc. All rights reserved."