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Everyone is familiar with the challenges of navigating new spaces. These challenges are amplified in healthcare settings, as patients and visitors may be feeling unwell, upset, anxious or in pain.
A welcoming, approachable face can make a world of difference to a person's comfort level.
At Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Andrew Johnson is often that friendly face.
Andrew has been working as a Patient Management Centre Representative at the Princess Margaret Information Desk for about two years, helping patients and visitors find their way through ongoing renovations with the help of navigators from the Volunteer Resources Department.
Andrew sees helping patients navigate as an opportunity to really impact the patient experience during what is often a stressful and difficult time.
"We create defining moments for our patients and visitors during their healthcare journey," Andrew says. "People are often stressed, confused, or anxious when they arrive, and we have a chance to turn the experience around for them."
Assessing the ease of navigation at UHN
October is Health Literacy Month, and this year the
UHN Patient Education & Engagement team led groups of staff, students, volunteers and UHN Patient Partners through an assessment tool which helps organizations identify facility factors and barriers to accessing information, care, and services.
One of the Institute of Medicine's 10 Attributes of Health Literate Organizations involves providing "easy access to health information and services and help finding the way in facilities."
At UHN, the aim to become a more Health Literate Organization led the team to focus on assessing navigation throughout our hospitals through the lens of health literacy.
Small groups did walk-throughs of each of our patient care sites, assessing ease of navigation. This included scoring the presence of directions related to arrival and departure, entry and lobby wayfinding support, accessible, user-friendly signage and maps to elevators and speciality services, and availability of staff and volunteers to help.
While each site presented unique findings related to facility size, age, and construction, themes were consistent across UHN. Assessments of signage varied, in some cases assessors commented there was too much signage that may confuse visitors, while in other areas, not enough to help with wayfinding. Almost all who did the assessment, though, noted that there is a clear effort from staff to help patients navigate, and the value of staff and volunteers being approachable and available.
Everyone has a role to play
While the Information Desk staff and Volunteer Navigators are key players in supporting patient wayfinding, all members of TeamUHN can make an impact on patient experience when it comes to navigation.
"All UHN staff have a role to play in noticing cues, body language, and moments when a patient is in need of assistance and stopping to help," Andrew says. "I will approach a patient or visitor, introduce myself, and kindly ask if they need assistance.
"I ask open-ended questions to get more details on where they need to go."
Sometimes staff are afraid to stop to help in case they won't know the answer. Simply helping patients and visitors find their way to the elevator they need or the information desk can have a huge impact and show compassion and caring.
Aside from stopping to assist patients, there are other ways TeamUHN can help patients navigate our spaces:
Tips for patients, families and visitors
Andrew suggests planning ahead as much as possible before coming to the hospital to help reduce stress. One way to do this is by signing up for
myUHN Patient Portal to see appointment details ahead of time. This way you can have them with you on your mobile device or print the details.
Other ways patients and visitors can better navigate at UHN: