Boston Children's Hospital

The challenge of wayfinding in hospitals and mobile technology as an answer.

Boston Children’s Hospital presents a very specific set of difficulties for patients (and patient families) attempting to navigate their way around its campus. The 395-bed tertiary care center consists of 12 separate buildings, most of which are related to patient care or family services. Many of these buildings are detached and located across the street from one another, while others are complexly interconnected.

Because these buildings were constructed over the course of 150 years—for example, a building from the 1860s abuts a brand-new building currently being constructed—the buildings were not necessarily constructed according to the same organizational principles, and patients may need to traverse multiple buildings and multiple floors to reach their destination.

Quick and easy access to food and drink options or neighborhood diversions relieves stress for visitors.

Boston Children’s Hospital has printed color-coded maps that emphasize the main pathways among and through buildings, but hospital staff reported that even those who work on the campus every day nonetheless often lost their way while navigating among different buildings.

For families with sick children, these difficulties are compounded by the stress caused by coping with the child’s illness, and by the fact that children who visit the hospital may be in acute pain or suffer from fatigue. Under these circumstances, it is psychologically taxing to negotiate the steps needed to get from Floor 1 of Building X and pass through two separate buildings to reach Floor 7 of Building Y, a common need in a complexly interconnected hospital network.

This is a challenging and anxious process for both the patient and their family; any alleviation of this frustration raises the standard of care the patient receives from the hospital.

"It is psychologically taxing to negotiate the steps needed to get from Floor 1 of Building X and pass through two separate buildings to reach Floor 7 of Building Y."

“As families balance their busy schedules with their child’s health needs, Boston Children’s Hospital app powered by Meridian will become an essential tool for many.”

Implementation: Mobile Wayfinding Application

In April 2012, Boston Children’s Hospital implemented a Meridian-powered mobile application (“app”) called MyWay that allows hospital visitors to navigate throughout the many complex building pathways of Boston Children’s Hospital found in six campuses in the Boston area.

According to Chandra Edwards, the project lead for Boston Children’s Hospital, “The app not only provides simple turn-by-turn directions through hospital corridors and across streets, but also acts as a ‘concierge’ application allowing families to find information about the clinicians whose offices the families were trying to reach: not just their location but also their photographs and specialties.”

Often, according to Edwards, patient families become frustrated or hurried while trying to find the department they need, and are not made aware of important peripheral services offered by the hospital, such as a children’s play areas and a financial services center. The app provides access to this information, and also informs visitors of neighboring amenities such as the locations of nearby restaurants.

Turn-by-turn directions to clinicians means fewer missed appointments.

Edwards reports that the Meridian Editor, the content management system designed by Meridian—the interface between the people at the hospital and the hospital’s wayfinding app—is very simple to update manually, and to integrate with the hospital’s existing databases. Edwards also notes that their Meridian-powered app’s ability to allow instantaneous information updates is essential to the smooth running of the hospital. In one instance, when an elevator was closed, the app made it possible to reroute visitors away from that elevator without those visitors becoming aware that the elevator was out of order.

At Boston Children’s Hospital, the Meridian app functioned as a platform for the hospital to communicate to its visitors and employees. The application, therefore, functions precisely as well as the information that’s contained on it. Since Boston Children’s Hospital is a highly complex entity, a large amount of information was required to implement the wayfinding system, with a high amount of cooperation among departments. The undertaking was considered to be comparable with the project of creating and maintaining the hospital’s Web site.

According to Edwards, “We attribute some of our success to our ability to achieve a very high level of early buy-in among physicians and departments throughout the hospital campus. The app became one of the standard ways that the hospital could communicate not only with the hospitals’ patients and family, but also with our employees.” The mobile app became an extension of the hospital’s information architecture, functioning in much the same way as the Web site, but with greater interactivity because of the app’s location-tracking capability.

Integration with staff directories helps patients put names with faces.

The hospital implemented a Patient Experience Committee with leaders from every department in the hospital, running the range from clinical services to the cafeteria, the parking department, hospital security and the team running the Web site. Because the app is considered to be part of patient care—specifically, in reduction of stress and offering guidance—changes to the app require sign-off from multiple departments.

All departments participated to ensure that the app was both accurate and comprehensive. Boston Children’s Hospital reports a high amount of inter-departmental integration, and was able to bring in all internal stakeholders, design their app and launch it to the public within the span of only a few months. Edwards advises that hospitals that are less integrated among their various departments might anticipate a longer development process, and should construct timelines accordingly.

“The mobile app became an extension of the hospital’s information architecture, functioning in much the same way as the Web site, but with greater interactivity because of the app’s location-tracking capability.”

Results: Mobile App User Testing

Boston Children’s Hospital conducted user testing to ensure that the app functioned appropriately and was helpful to hospital patients. More complete results will be published at a later date, but certain initial findings were noted. In the first six months, the app was downloaded by more than 4,500 patients. According to user surveys, 65 percent of hospital visitors who downloaded the app reported that it improved their experience at the hospital. Hospital staffers hope to improve that experience further by responding to user feedback, and by training staff to educate patients appropriately on how to use the app.

The survey found that 45 percent of visitors to the hospital use smart phones, and thus have access to the Meridian-powered wayfinding app. The app remains nonetheless one means of communication among many; traditional information services must be made available to those without access to the app. Boston Children’s Hospital plans to study the effect of the Meridian-powered app on the number of missed appointments, and on physician scheduling. Initial results are considered to be highly encouraging.

"In the first six months, the app was downloaded by more than 4,500 patients."

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