Thursday, August 23, 2012

The importance of signage in health infrastructure development

A couple of months ago, Darlene and I paid a visit to HCCA's sister organisation in Perth, the Health Consumers Council of Western Australia.

While we were there, we were able to have a look around at some of the health care services in the city.  Like the ACT, WA is currently in the process of developing several large infrastructure projects, including the brand new Fiona Stanley Hospital (due to open in 2014) and the redevelopment of the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital campus.

As we were pretty much complete novices regarding the navigation of both of these sites, we were struck by how much difference good, clear signage makes in your ability the finding your way through sites under development.  Not only that, but clear signage can make clear the processes involved in some health services much clear, thus allaying or mitigating poor communication between services and consumers.  Effective signage or publicity materials can also make the purpose and function of development clear to consumers, justifying the inconvenience many development projects can cause.

At Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, we encountered several examples of this kind of effective signage.

"Triage" means that the sickest patients are seen first.

In the Emergency Department, there were several signs which explained the triage system - "triage" means that the sickest patients are seen first.  As informed health consumers, we tend to forget that terms like triage are not always so clear to other less system-literate consumers in our society.  As such, this kind of explanation is helpful, especially in the Emergency Department when people are definitely in distress, and can't understand why they have been waiting so long.

Four Hour Rule Program - Overall SCGH - 60.8%,
Emergency Department DICs - 85.8%

There was also a poster in the ED explaining about the Four Hour Rule for Emergency Departments.  Again, this kind of thing can act to increase the health literacy of service users.  The poster also displayed statistics about how well the ED was meeting these targets.  This is also important for transparency to consumers - even if there is some debate about the appropriateness of the four hour rule.

New Children's Hospital Banner
"I'm excited because of the new playground 'cause it makes you feel better." - Kayleb, 11 years
"The new hospital will put less stress on parents." - Tyler, 13 years
"I can't wait to play with all the new toys." - Carmen, 8 years

They are also building a new Children's Hospital at Sir Charles Gairdner, and there was lots of signage around this.  The banner above is very colourful, and displayed photos and quotations of users of the service, linking the construction with positive future outcomes.  The sign below gave a telephone number that people could call to find out information about the project.

Reflecting on this, I began to realise that actually constructing new buildings is only one small part of health infrastructure redevelopment.  In order for it to be as efficient, effective and unobtrusive as possible, there are a myriad of factors that require consideration, not least signage.  Signage can explain, educate and allow consumers to see the benefits redevelopment will provide - that's why it's important to get it right.

Heather McGowan
Health Infrastructure Program

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