Enhancing the patient experience with navigation in hospitals

When it comes to healthcare, patient experience is incredibly important. A positive patient experience not only contributes to better outcomes and faster recovery but also ensures that individuals are more likely to engage with the same healthcare provider in the future. Moreover, an integral aspect of a positive patient experience is the ease of navigating the hospital facility. 

In this article, we’ll explore strategies to enhance the patient experience and make hospital navigation more accessible and efficient.

Hospitals are complex and unfamiliar. 

“Healthcare facilities are among the most complex environments people are likely to visit” – NSW Health Infrastructure, Wayfinding for Healthcare Facilities.

Often lacking distinctive appearances, the internal design of hospitals traditionally doesn’t have unique and identifiable features, which can make us feel disoriented. Seemingly endless white and grey corridors with multiple similar-looking rooms and departments can make them extremely difficult to navigate, especially in moments of heightened emotions and anxiety.

Hospitals are primarily built for the equipment needs and to ensure the health and safety of patients, not necessarily optimised for wayfinding purposes. Hospital wayfinding strategies are often ad-hoc as hospitals expand and add new wings and additions to old buildings.

Adding to the confusion for patients and visitors is that outpatients make up a large proportion of total visits to a hospital. For example, at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, 75% of patients are outpatients, 50% are outpatients at Austin Hospital, and 40 – 50% are outpatients at Ballarat Base Hospital. This means more than half of hospital patients don’t have time to familiarise themselves with the hospital layout.

How to provide a better patient experience:

1. Effective Communication

Clear and effective communication is the cornerstone of an improved patient experience. 

Helping patients and visitors understand what to expect and where to go when arriving for their appointment or procedure can significantly reduce the stress of visiting a complex hospital. Sending patients procedure information, appointment location, and directions beforehand can assist in planning and minimise any confusion on the day of the visit.

2. Hospital Wayfinding Solutions

Navigating a hospital can be overwhelming, especially for patients and their families unfamiliar with the facility. Departments move around, buildings are expanded and added, and static signage can’t keep up with the evolving nature of healthcare facilities. Old and out-of-date signage misleads patients, visitors and staff.

Hospitals can employ various strategies to simplify navigation. Once a patient arrives, tools such as wayfinding apps can cut through confusing medical signage that uses terms unfamiliar to patients and visitors and creates a language barrier.

Hospitals can add interactive kiosks to assist customer service staff to guide visitors better when asking for directions. They can also integrate digital maps into hospital websites to help patients familiarise themselves with the layout before their visit.

3. Enhanced Accessibility

All patients and visitors are likely to have at least one disability in a hospital environment. Whether due to stress about an upcoming surgery, anxiety about the health outcomes of a loved one, or sleep deprivation from staying overnight in the hospital. 

Some patients also experience a decrease in focus and an increase in disorientation due to medication, experiencing pain, or limited mobility after surgery or other medical procedures. 

These temporary disabilities directly impact our ability to navigate in a complex space.

Some patients will also have a permanent disability, with 1 in 6 Australians identifying with having a disability, and 50% of people aged 65 and over have a disability. These statistics will only increase with our ageing population.

Providing an enhanced level of accessibility is crucial in improving the patient experience, particularly for individuals with disabilities or mobility issues. Hospitals should ensure their facilities are designed to be accessible to all, with ramps, elevators, wheelchair-accessible spaces, and clear pathways. 

More importantly, by providing accessible wayfinding apps and digital navigation tools, hospitals enable people with situational, temporary or permanent disabilities to navigate the complexity of a hospital in the palm of their hand. Installing an indoor navigation app that provides accessible navigation, such as audio directions, enables someone with a vision impairment to move independently and confidently inside a building. Other features to look out for in a digital navigation tool include being able to select wheelchair-accessible routes that help wheelchair users or people using other mobility aids avoid stairs and other obstacles.


Enhancing the patient experience and making hospital navigation easier is pivotal in ensuring the healthcare system is patient-centred. Effective communication, streamlined navigation, and a commitment to providing accessible wayfinding solutions are essential in achieving this goal. By focusing on these aspects, hospitals can create an environment where patients feel supported, informed, and confident in their healthcare journey.

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