How Indoor Mapping Creates More Efficient, Empathetic Hospitals

In 1998, a group of healthcare professionals stood in front of a map of the hospital where they worked. They unspooled a ball of blue yarn, and used it to trace the path that a typical cancer patient would take to receive chemotherapy.

The picture they created was alarming.

“How awful for them,” said Dr. Henry Otero. In an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast, Dr. Otero described the long and winding path the yarn created. This was the route that cancer patients were regularly being asked to walk at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

This story is a compelling demonstration of the power of visuals—and of maps in particular. When we map out a journey, we achieve a big-picture perspective. It provides deeper insight into the traveler’s experience.  

Digital location and 3D mapping technologies are taking this to the next level. They’re using real-time maps to help organizations understand precisely how their indoor spaces are being used.

For healthcare facilities, the potential benefits are nothing short of astounding.  

Insights into the patient journey

At Virginia Mason, mapping the patient’s journey was one step in better understanding the patient experience and part of a larger initiative to improve the hospital’s overall efficiency.  With a ball of yarn, they could see the distance their patients had to walk and they began to consider what it would be like to sit in the many waiting areas en route.

“We couldn’t conceive of it intellectually until we saw it visually,” said Michele Wettland, a nurse at the hospital.

Visuals hold the key to comprehension. For the hospital, this exercise unlocked greater feelings of empathy for their patients and brought healthcare providers closer to walking in their patient’s shoes.

When WiFi, bluetooth, and advanced positioning technology are paired with sensors that create 3D maps, the result is unprecedented insight into the routes patients take.

As a hospital decision maker, imagine having instant access to continuously updated maps and floor plans of the hospital. Using these visuals, administrators can actually see—and collect big picture data related to the movement of patients, staff, and even medical equipment.

Administrators are able to observe precisely how every square foot inside your buildings is being used.

How crowded is a given hallway at a specific time of day? Where are patients and their visitors getting lost? Does the flow of staff impede their pathways?

Answering these questions uncovers methods of improving the patient experience—through (for example) redesigning space and modifying staff workflows.

That’s just one of the ways location technology can streamline the patient journey. By connecting to mobile devices, this technology enables hospitals to provide turn-by-turn navigation inside their building much like Google maps does outdoors.

Achieving greater efficiency

News stories about cutting costs and meeting targets leave many people worried about the quality of healthcare. Too often, we think of care—and the environments in which it’s delivered—as either empathetic or efficient. But does it have to be one or the other?

The Virginia Mason Hospital overhaul didn’t begin as an initiative to improve the patient experience. It began as an attempt to stop the facility from losing money. But the mapping activity led the hospital’s CEO, Dr. Gary Kaplan, to search for a better management system.  

Dr. Kaplan didn’t select another healthcare facility as a model. Instead, he was inspired by the management practices at Toyota.

What emerged was a design that reversed the standard experience for patients. Instead of travelling from one appointment to the next, often spending more time in waiting or in transit between appointments, patients now were seen in patient-centred care areas designed to be light-filled, comfortable and spa like. Healthcare professionals travelled to their patients. No more waiting rooms. Not only did the patient experience improve, but there were fewer injuries as the hospital re-design was safe. The improvement was so transformative, insurance costs decreased by 37 per cent.

Knowing where, how and when patients travel can guide how facilities are designed to decrease travel time and improve the patient experience. Locating departments that are often visited by the same patient during the same appointment near to each other in order to make traveling between appointments more efficient and less tiring for patients. Implementing an easy-to-use navigation app powered by location data can decrease stress and time wasted asking for directions. From a financial perspective, missed appointments cost the American healthcare system $150 billion annually.  

Asset tracking technology further extends the benefits of indoor location to ensure that medical equipment is readily available and properly maintained. According to one study, more than a third of nurses spend hour per shift searching for equipment and supplies. Using location data and asset tracking, hospital administrators can ensure resources are properly distributed and easily retrievable to improve workflow efficiency enabling healthcare professionals to focus on patient care.

Better data, deeper understanding

The image of blue yarn twisting and zigzagging across a two-dimensional map is powerful. This basic exercise helped form the basis of important management decisions. Imagine what could be done with advanced digital tools.

What’s required to enhance the efficiency of an indoor space and the experiences of the people in it? Data. The more comprehensive that data is, the better positioned the user is to make evidence-based decisions.

Advanced mapping and location technology can provide high-quality hospital data and analytics for design, infrastructure development, staff deployment, workflow improvements, equipment allocation and purchasing, and more.  It can be used to improve patient and visitor engagement. Imagine apps on your smartphone that greet visitors as they enter the hospital and make checking-in easier. These are just a few of the areas where better information regarding indoor space can make a difference.

At InnerSpace, we believe strongly in the value of data. We think it should be accessible to those who can harness it to improve the patient experience and level of care healthcare providers can deliver.

By providing the data and tools (APIs) that developers need to create new in-hospital apps, we aim to contribute to a healthcare future that’s more collaborative—as well as more empathetic and efficient.