Hospital Combines Kiosks With BLE App to Help Patients Navigate

By Claire Swedberg

The Connexient system at The Jewish Hospital allows those with smartphones to find their way around the hospital, doctors' offices and a parking area with an app, while others can access wayfinding data on kiosks mounted in entrances.

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Cincinnati’s The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health is helping its patients and visitors navigate its hospital, medical offices and parking area with a wayfinding app that employs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. The technology, provided by Connexient, is helping patients to reach their destinations faster and with less anxiety, says Craig Schmidt, the hospital’s VP and chief operations officer. According to Schmidt, the hospital hopes to add other features in the long run, such as push notifications and marketing.

The hospital’s Right This Way app is available on smartphones, while three kiosks also provide visitors with location information and assists them if they want to download the app. The system deploys Connexient’s MediNav digital wayfinding app.

The Right This Way app

“Hospitals across the nation share a common challenge in finding a way to get patients and family to their destinations without anxiety,” Schmidt says. In this effort, The Jewish Hospital employs ambassadors located at main entrances who can provide instructions or escort visitors to the specific departments they seek. But the hospital wanted something that would be available to anyone who entered, including those who would rather use their own technology to find their way. Since many are already comfortable with using GPS data to navigate outdoor spaces, The Jewish Hospital opted to extend that service indoors with the Right This Way app.

The hospital approached multiple technology vendors seeking a solution, Schmidt says. It selected the Connexient beacon-based system because it served as more than just a map—rather, it could place an individual at a particular location as a dot and also help to guide him or her throughout the facility.

The hospital installed 280 BLE beacons throughout its facility, including in its newly constructed patient tower and in three office buildings across the street. Beacons were also deployed in the parking garage, to assist visitors in finding their way to the appropriate hospital entrance from the garage, and in locating their cars when they returned. Connexient also provided three kiosks, one at the main entrance, one in front of the emergency department and a third at a busy lower-level lobby.

The solution consists of not only the wayfinding app and kiosks, but also a Web-based map that displays the locations of offices and treatment areas on a map of the hospital or offices. Those who wish to use the app can download it on an Android or iOS device. Then, as soon as they arrive at the hospital, they will receive a prompt welcoming them and asking them to select their destination. Their smartphone will capture the beacon transmissions and the app will then determine the phone’s location, based on that data. In the meantime, the app will store data regarding each action, so that Connexient can provide analytics data to The Jewish Hospital about traffic movement. All user and device location activity data is anonymous.

If a visitor has arrived in the parking garage and has parked his or her car, the app will ask whether that person would like to save the vehicle’s location. If he or she indicates “yes,” the app will store that general location on the app, based on the specific beacon that is transmitting to the phone (each beacon has a range of approximately 30 to 40 feet).

If a user enters the hospital and has not downloaded the app, the ambassador posted at that location will still be able to help. He or she can suggest using the app to those who are interested. If the visitor proceeds to the kiosk, that individual can indicate on the touch screen that he or she wishes to download the app. The system will ask for the user’s cell phone number and whether the device is iOS- or Android-based. When the guest inputs that information, the system will send a link to the phone, enabling him or her to quickly download the app and begin using it.

Those who do not wish to use the app, but who are not using the ambassador to find their way, can select their destination at the kiosk touch screen and view that location on a map.

Craig Schmidt

The app accommodates those with disabilities by providing an option for patients or visitors to indicate that they use a wheelchair. The system will then ensure that it sends that person on a route that is wheelchair-accessible—one without stairs, for instance. The kiosk also accommodates those with wheelchairs, who can simply press the wheelchair icon on the bottom of the screen, causing the screen to display all information and selections on the lower half, where they can reach from their wheelchair.

The Jewish Hospital began testing the technology in March 2017 and took the system live on Apr. 3. The greatest challenges centered around ensuring that mapping would be accurate, Schmidt says. It’s important to not send patients through areas where the public should not go unaccompanied, he explains, such as surgical areas. What’s more, those zones can change over time. As such, accurate mapping was essential.

Schmidt says he does not yet have data about the system’s success in aiding patient wayfinding. He plans to measure the results related to how often the app is downloaded, as well as which areas receive the most traffic (which could mean additional signage might benefit those areas, for instance).

In the long run, Schmidt says, he hopes to leverage the system to provide location-based content for users, such as indicating a special on coffee to those who come within range of a beacon at the hospital’s coffee shop. It could also be used for educational purposes, such as providing reminders about scheduling a mammogram or other health-based information.

Several dozen customers are currently utilizing Connexient’s MediNav solution, says Geoff Halstead, Connexient’s chief product officer, though The Jewish Hospital is the first to also deploy its large screen kiosk. “We’re believers that there’s a wide range of demographics and users,” he states. “Whereas early adopter and digital natives will love blue-dot navigation on a smartphone, the Web version and kiosk ensure that older users and also those that want to pre-plan their visits are also addressed. We think this is critical to an overall solution.”