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Why good wayfinding words matter: UK hospital apologises for poor signage to Coronavirus isolation unit

Image of a thermometer (with COVID-19 written on it) juxtaposed against a hospital 'isolation' ward' sign and hospital backgroundA recent incident reported in The Guardian has highlighted why robust signage is so important in a hospital setting and what happens when it falls short of best practice.

A woman who experienced flu-like symptoms after a trip to Singapore and Hong Kong, self-referred to James Cook University Hospital (Middlesbrough) following advice received via NHS 111. The Hospital had already set up pods designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, far from an efficient, well-signposted and speedy arrival at the designated isolation pod (thereby minimising contact with staff members, visitors and patients), the family experienced what the husband referred to as “an utterly disorganised farce.”

Incomplete signage, confusing wording/instructions on displayed posters,  as well as the poor briefing of key hospital personnel sent the family on a wild goose chase around the hospital at a time when their contact with others should have been kept to a minimum. The family’s physical footprint covered A&E, the oncology department, outpatients, the staff office and various reception areas, before eventually reaching the designated isolation unit on the perimeter of the hospital site.

Thankfully, the family tested negative to coronavirus. Lessons have been learnt by James Cook University Hospital and measures introduced since to ensure that staff have been advised where to direct members of the public and that posters have been reworded to make them clearer.