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More Than Maps

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In the past, when staff members at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston saw someone wandering the halls in search of a doctor’s office, they often did more than just stop to give directions. Many times the physician or nurse escorted the patient all the way to the sought-after location.

But when construction boosted the campus from 3.5 million to 9.5 million square feet, personal guidance, which was never ideal, became mostly out of the question. Patient surveys revealed that the existing direction-finding system was too general and ineffective. “We didn’t have a comprehensive system; we had some signs up,” says Susan Lipka, executive director of capital planning and management services.

In January 2003, the hospital turned to an Austin-based wayfinding firm, fd2s Inc., to create a navigation system that would ease the stress on visitors. These days, primary entry points are marked by 20-foot signs bearing a single number. Once inside, hospital visitors can use touch-screen kiosks that offer printable directions and pocket-size maps, use an in-house telephone to get directions or get printed directions from one of the facility’s staff members. Coordinating stripes in the carpet lead patients and visitors past numerous visual cues, such as an aquarium, a sculpture and a fountain, along the way to their destination.

Even before they arrive, patients are encouraged to learn their way around using the system’s online direction service. Unlike popular mapping

Web sites, the system provides directions that go beyond a street address. By entering their patient identification number or appointment location, visitors are directed to a particular area of campus. “We can tell them which garage to go to and help get them right where they need to be,” says Amber Felts, the center’s wayfinding administrator.

Lipka admits she was skeptical about whether all patients would embrace the technology of the kiosks, but she’s found that 70 year olds use them just as much as younger generations. The touch screens consistently get 1,500 hits a week, and during the system’s first operating year, directions were printed from the kiosks and online 50,000 times.

—Kara Olsen