How one firm can offer directions to every patient or visitor

The co-owners of architectural signage company GDS Inc., Mark Green and Joe Motta, had accumulated decades of experience in hospital wayfinding. Since its founding in 1996, their company has provided wayfinding solutions and environmental graphic design concepts to hundreds of clients in the healthcare space.

Throughout their careers, they witnessed the rise of digital technology for outdoor navigation. Google Maps and other web services made route planning a breeze. Their simple blue dot shows users their real-time location — a dynamic “you are here” sign that has revolutionized navigation whether by car, foot, bicycle, or public transit.

Being experts in wayfinding for healthcare, Green and Motta saw enormous opportunity in using the same technology to help patients and visitors find their way through complex medical centers. In 2012, they founded a company called Connexient based on this vision.

“We have this incredible GPS experience on Apple or Google Maps while driving, but once we get to the hospital, half of the people walking through the door get lost,” said Geoff Halstead, chief product officer at Connexient. “We thought, why can’t we have indoor GPS for hospitals? Let’s figure out how to do blue-dot, turn-by-turn navigation in hospitals — and that’s how the company started.”

Based in New York City, Connexient focuses exclusively on indoor mapping and digital wayfinding solutions for the healthcare market. The company’s flagship product, MediNav, features turn-by-turn mobile indoor navigation and blue-dot positioning for mobile, web, and kiosk. Visitors can search for a doctor’s office, department, or point of interest from the software’s front page, and MediNav will provide door-to-door directions — from their home, to the correct parking structure, and lastly to the final destination.

The system has the added benefit of allowing health systems to track patient and visitor flow. Analytical software allows hospital managers to monitor patient visits and average dwell times, and plan accordingly.

Keeping in mind that not all patients will be tech-savvy, Connexient offers health systems multiple approaches to wayfinding. The start-up provides digital signage, kiosk, and paper map solutions to meet visitors’ preferred options.

For instance, MediNav has a print option to provide personalized paper maps with step-by-step directions that could be installed at a hospital’s reception desk. “With hospitals, you have a wide demographic of people coming in, and there are many who won’t use blue-dot navigation because they’re 65 and older,” said Halstead. “We want to use an all-screens approach: a blue-dot mobile version, a web version that allows for map printing, kiosks, and digital signage.”

It took the company three years to successfully achieve true blue-dot indoor navigation. The spread of Bluetooth Low Energy beacons — hardware transmitters that can broadcast data to nearby mobile devices — spurred the arrival of MediNav.

The beacons can be purchased and installed at low cost. They support both Android and iPhone mobile devices, and allow for reliable location accuracy in indoor environments.

In its first year promoting blue-dot navigation with MediNav, Connexient started with eight clients and has since expanded business to 28 healthcare institutions. Hospitals seek wayfinding improvements to boost patient satisfaction, prevent missed appointments, and avoid lost productivity.

“The traditional approaches to wayfinding such as signage, colored arrows on the floor, different names for elevators, front desk volunteers — what we’ve heard from health systems is that these are truly not working,” said Ariana Klitzner, vice president of provider solutions at Avia. “Hospital staff are still getting stopped all the time and asked by visitors how to get somewhere.”

Connexient recently presented at Avia’s “Shark Tank”-like showcase that featured several start-ups describing their wayfinding technology in front of health system executives. The eight health systems who participated sought a frictionless experience for their patients from start to finish, with a good wayfinding system being an important piece of that journey. Three companies demonstrated their technologies at the showcase, with Connexient rising above the rest to become the health systems’ solution of choice.

“For the health systems that participated in the showcase, there was a comfort knowing that Connexient really understood healthcare,” said Klitzner. “Integration and multi-modality were really important as well, and Connexient offers an all-screen digital solution for mobile, web, and kiosk, as well as seamless integration with electronic health records.”

Several of the health systems are implementing a pilot, with some hoping to scale it up to their entire organization. Most clients start with one site, and when they feel like the system is working, they will roll it out system-wide.

For Connexient, a perfect navigation experience means nothing without map accuracy. Mapping a sprawling, complex medical center can be extremely labor-intensive, and currently takes the start-up about 2 months. Over the next year, Halstead and his team hope to whittle the time down to 2 weeks.

In the near future, the company wants to implement what it calls the “Airline Check-in Model” of patient experience. About 8 to 10 major clients have plans to deploy this model, which integrates appointment scheduling with digital wayfinding to help reduce missed or late appointments.

For instance, a patient receives an appointment reminder on her phone automatically generated by the electronic health record, along with turn-by-turn directions from her location to the physician’s office. The outdoor/indoor navigation guides her to the lobby, where she checks in at the front desk. On the health system side, the office is notified of when patients leave their home or check in for greater visibility of inbound patient flow.