Leslie Wolke is a nationally recognized wayfinding technology consultant. From wayfinding websites to apps and touch screens, she has developed innovative solutions in collaboration with a number of large institutional clients, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, New York University Langone Medical Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center and more.
We asked Leslie to test our healthcare mobile app solutions and provide feedback on our FrenchWay app. Her thoughts are below.
Can Smartphones Improve Hospital Visits?
The smartphone in our pocket gives us superpowers. It endows us with access to all of human knowledge and provides constant communication with our loved ones. But can it make an anxiety-ridden visit to a hospital a little easier?
To find out, I test-drove Phunware’s new app for French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, California. French Hospital is a leader in cardiac care on the central coast of California and is part of the Dignity Health system. The fifth-largest network of healthcare facilities in the country, Dignity Health is piloting the app to evaluate a potential rollout to its 39 hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona.
Known as “FrenchWay,” the app was designed to serve as a personal guide for hospital visitors throughout their entire journey to and from the hospital. Turn-by-turn navigation gets you from any location to the medical center, then indoor wayfinding and navigation guide you right to your chosen destination. The app is available for Android and iOS.
Currently, French Hospital is undergoing massive construction, with renovations to existing facilities and the addition of two new wings. Short-term signs direct to temporary entrances and construction equipment is everywhere. This makes navigating the facility even more difficult.
I decided to simulate a common common trip to the hospital—visiting a loved one. Here’s how everything worked.
My Indoor Wayfinding Experience with FrenchWay
- I found the hospital wayfinding app easily on the French Hospital website. When I launched the app for the first time, a tutorial showed me how to get turn-by-turn directions from any location to the medical center. It also explained how to use the built-in interactive hospital map to get indoor directions to my final destination.
- For street directions to the hospital, the app links to your default mapping app (Apple Maps or Google Maps). The trip from my hotel to the hospital was easy—I just followed the audio directions, which were similar to those you get from an in-car or mobile GPS system.
- When I arrived at French Hospital, the FrenchWay icon appeared on my iPhone lock screen, with a reminder to return to the app to use the indoor interactive map.
- Since the content on the app can be updated as needed, the app’s map already reflected that the Main Entrance was closed due to construction. I entered the complex at the suggested alternate entrance. From there, I searched on the map for the Med/Surg Nurses’ Station. A blue line appeared on the map, tracing my suggested route.
- A label stating “Start Here,” was punctuated by the pulsating blue dot—the same “you are here” dot we see on all the most common navigation apps. As I followed the route, the map re-oriented to show me a “heads-up” view, with the top of the map pointed toward my line of sight.
- When I walked past the cafeteria, a notification popped up with the daily specials. Phunware’s technology allows the hospital staff to add messages that are transmitted through the app to visitors at specific locations.
- I arrived at the Med/Surg Nurses Station with only a few hesitations along the way and no wrong turns. Success!
New Possibilities with Indoor Positioning
Indoor positioning technology—the ability to locate a smartphone in an environment and provide specific information to it like the “blue dot” or a promotional message—is a relatively young field. Different vendors are pursuing various networking protocols to support their efforts. Phunware apps can use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi access points to provide “indoor GPS.”
Since indoor wayfinding is new, so is the experience of walking within a building and following a blue dot on a smartphone screen. It took some getting used to, especially at decision points where I needed to glance at the app to orient myself and decide where to go. I believe that the app’s performance can be attributed to the positioning of the beacons and the responsiveness of Phunware’s platform.
A “real” visitor may also make use of FrenchWay’s other features: a directory of departments (with phone numbers), plus links to the hospital’s patient web portal and “find a doctor” referral service.
After spending a few hours at French Hospital and using the app on iPhone and Android devices, I believe Phunware is on the right path toward making our journeys to and within hospitals easier to navigate.
If you’re curious about the FrenchWay app and wayfinding with Phunware, download the recording of my May 13 webinar on The Future of Connected Health. I presented with Marie Garrison, Phunware’s healthcare Product Marketing Manager. We discussed this pilot program, our top 10 takeaways from HIMSS and a lot more.