It’s almost always been possible for patients, family members and clinicians to find needed information in a healthcare setting — it just sometimes requires a little searching and usually a lot of waiting. But that is changing rapidly, thanks to the proliferation of innovative visual solutions.
Visual solutions  often push out much needed information directly and immediately to those who need it — when they need it. That can include captive audiences in waiting areas, cafeterias and common areas or those in need of information as they hurriedly navigate throughout the hospital facility.
These solutions rely on advances in networking, mobility, software applications, touch technologies and high-definition displays to help hospitals communicate with a variety of audiences. They can also be part of a holistic marketing effort, offering dynamic, easily updated and affordable ways to serve the community.
Visual solutions represent a broad category of display technologies that can be defined as any mechanism that increases the visibility, timeliness or efficacy of clinical, patient or logistical data.
“It’s all related to improving cost, quality and access,” says Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO of the eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit organization promoting improvement in healthcare. She notes that people nowadays want to get needed information on their own time, having gotten used to, for instance, absorbing details about flight schedules via airport displays or using a self-service kiosk to check into a hotel or purchase movie tickets.
While the message is the key ingredient in visual solutions, the “messenger” can take various forms. They include the following: digital signage displays, self-service kiosks, bedside infotainment and mobile devices.
Hospitals and physician offices have long provided static information and entertainment via paper signs, whiteboards, monitors and cable television, most prominently in patient waiting rooms.
More recently, digital signage applications for healthcare organizations have hit the market. Easily integrated with hospital information systems and networks, these software programs provide the ability to pull all manner of patient, clinical and educational information, from trusted external and internal sources, and then push it out to various visual mediums – usually large-size displays – but also clinician devices like smartphones and tablets.
This breakthrough is occurring at the same time that high-definition video displays are becoming less expensive, higher in quality and more durable, according to Stan Swiderski, business development manager for medical and professional displays at NEC Displays. These displays are also thinner and lighter, making them easy to mount almost anywhere,
Alan C. Brawn, a principal of Brawn Consulting, agrees noting that digital signage combined with visual displays adds up to extreme impact and user engagement. “A viewer is 10 times more likely to pay attention to a digital sign than a static sign,” he says.
Digital signage software offers a lot of built-in functionality and templates, but it’s also highly customizable. That means healthcare organizations are limited only by their imagination in terms of what type of information and applications they want to offer.
The possibilities include:
These stand-alone hardware devices offer some similarities to digital signage displays but they tend to be a bit more private and individualized. A key enabler, says Brawn, is the kiosk’s interactive touch screen, “making it much more intuitive. People are now ‘programmed’ or more kindly predisposed to interact with their devices.”
Healthcare organizations currently use self-service kiosks for:
Bordenick notes self-service kiosks offer three additional benefits over staff members and volunteers. For starters, they operate 24x7. “They don’t go to lunch or knock off at 5 p.m.,” she says.
Secondly, kiosk information can be provided in any number of languages. This helps hospitals serve increasingly diverse patient populations while relying on their staff interpreters for more critical tasks.
And finally, kiosks can deliver healthcare information in locations other than a hospital or doctor’s office. As an example, several major drugstore chains are now offering kiosks to help educate patients on medication and disease management and healthy living choices.
These relatively new systems offer patients a streamlined, adjustable, easy-to-operate, all-in-one television, phone, web-surfing, entertainment, nurse communication and meal-ordering device.
More importantly, bedside infotainment terminals  are integrated with the hospital’s information systems and databases. That means caregivers can use them while interacting with patients at the point of care.
Hospitals and healthcare organizations are embracing the new mobile trend by installing wireless networks and providing clinicians with notebook and tablet computers. As a result, caregivers are equipped with on-the-go and at-their-fingertips access to electronic patient records, lab results, documentation and communication capabilities.
With mobile tools, a physician can, among other things, order a prescription or test while face-to-face with a patient, show a patient their test results or X-ray on the device, hold a conference with a patient and a specialist over secure video, and research medication and treatment options while sitting in the doctor’s lounge or outside after rounds.
Nurses, meanwhile, can use their notebooks or tablets to enter patient vitals, educate patients or go over post-admission instructions.
Other factors adding to the benefits of clinician mobility include: an increasing crop of tablet and smartphone applications that rely on cameras, 3D visualization, simulation and other advances to aid in diagnoses and enable better patient education, clinician education and consultations.