Hospitals are built in compliance with technical standards by regulatory agencies for public health and municipal rules. However, such guidelines do not address the experience that patients and visitors have during their stays and procedures.
For those who work at the hospital, the routines are clear. For patients, who may have never been to a hospital before, everything is new.
Besides, there is the issue of fear. For example, for a physician a surgical procedure is part of their everyday life, however, for patients and their family, this is a complex experience that involves fear, trauma and uncertainty.
Some adjustments could be made through an UX project, making this experience friendlier for patients, including relying on technology to support the healthcare journey.
For those who are not familiar with the concept of Phygital, it derives from the words PHYsical (physical space) + diGITAL (digital technologies), blending these two universes to improve the user’s experience in physical spaces.
Consider a possible hospital routine of a patient being hospitalized for a few days. In this context, we have some important roles: the patient, the visitor, the doctor, nurses, cleaning and maintenance staff, receptionists and security guards. Also the environments comprised in this experience, such as the room where patient and visitor will be hosted, hallway, nursing ward, cafeteria, etc.
Some questions may be raised regarding the guests’ experience (patient + visitor): how well do they handle the environment of the room, such as the television, handset for controlling the hospital bed, air conditioning, curtains and windows, nurse call button, among others? How can the patient get more information on hospitalization procedures, meal options and schedule, their health condition or disease, schedule of room interventions, such as cleaning, changing sheets, medication and visits from doctors and nurses? Which areas are accessible for patients and visitors, and what kind of issues or requests are they able to solve at those places? What stimuli does the patient have during an ICU recovery?
A centralized system would be the first step to streamline the integration of information. For example, the hospital staff would know the activities in each room, who has been served their meals, who needs medications adjusted, who needs bed linens changed, and so on. However, considering the guests’ point of view, how could they have access to that? A mobile app is certainly not a good option.
Hospital guest demographics and profiles vary, requiring friendly technologies to serve the most technological users to those that are opposed to technology. Accordingly, chatbots and personal assistance are an interesting option, as they allow dynamic voice interactions, without requiring the user’s ability to navigate complex menus. Another important attribute of chatbots is the human characteristic of the interaction, as it is possible to create a customized avatar for a nurse, who will call the patient and the visitor by name and who may talk to them in a personalized manner, with different levels of depth. Tilting the bed, changing the TV channel, calling room service, changing the air conditioning temperature, turning the lights on and off, and even opening and closing the blinds, would be tasks easily handled by voice. It would also be possible, depending on the patient’s request, for a virtual nurse to display information on the TV. For example, if the patient wants to know the day’s schedule, such as meal times or check-up hours for nurses and doctors, the virtual nurse can display this on the room’s TV for a better view.
Another technology that is relevant in maintaining the friendliness of the experience, while ensuring the fulfillment of the objective, is tangible interfaces. A button to call a nurse is for low priority requests, such as a patient who needs help with the air conditioning, and also for high priority requests, such as patient being in pain or feeling sick and needing assistance. Providing a single button makes things easier for the user, but that does not contribute to staff logistics. Through tangible interfaces, requests can be segmented, optimizing the service efficiency, without prejudice to the user’s interaction. For example, through objects that present clear meanings, such as a red emoticon with a sad face, a yellow one with neutral face and a green one with a happy face, requests can be prioritized based on the nurse’s instructions on how to use each emoticon, which would be given at the guests’ arrival to the room. To ask for “help to change the TV channel”, the green emoticon should be used. To order a meal, the yellow one is used. In case of pain, the red emoticon is used.
Here are some real cases of virtual reality for healthcare that can be easily implemented in hospitals. Check out the videos below:
Another possible scenario in the patient’s experience at a hospital may be the time between their entrance through the reception and their accommodations in the room. Hospitals are large and complex buildings with restricted areas.
During registration, the patient is given a bracelet that tracks them in the hospital. Instead of calling them through service tickets for initial procedures, the bracelet vibrates so that the patient knows it is their turn. The bracelet could measure signals and record a patient log that is shared with the hospital system. Finally, the bracelet may be the patient’s guide in that environment, indicating by voice and screen displays where the patient should go. The bracelet could serve as an authentication for patients and visitors, providing access to the room or even buying snacks at the cafeteria, which will be charged at the hospital checkout.
Technologies that improve the user experience in physical spaces already exist. Hence the real challenge is how to unify them to make the best possible user experience by utilizing the Phygital concept.