Delivering the unexpected in healthcare: How Allina Health is using wayfinding to connect with consumers 

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Modern and simple — it's both the foundation behind Allina Health's new wayfinding initiative as well as its basis for communicating with consumers.

The Minneapolis-based health system in January launched a pilot of a new wayfinding ability within its Allina Health application, which provides step-by-step navigation via a user's mobile phone at Abbott Northwestern, one of the health system's largest hospitals in Minneapolis.

The nonprofit health system, which comprises 11 hospitals, more than 90 clinics and 15 retail pharmacies, built its own mobile app so that patients and consumers can have a streamlined communication experience.

Allina Health's app incorporates multiple functionalities; for example, the health system embedded its patient portal and wayfinding abilities, so consumers do not have to download multiple apps for separate functions. The initiative was inspired by Allina Health's desire to interact with consumers, not just patients, in a "modern and simple" way, according to Chris Dufresne, director of digital consumer and employee experience at Allina Health.

To develop the wayfinding ability, Allina Health collaborated with the Mall of America to understand their solution, ultimately devising a digital tool that addresses navigation and helps reduce anxiety that can arise in individuals who visit the 2.7 million square-foot hospital. 

"Coming to a large hospital, especially in the city, can come with some anxiety," Mr. Dufresne said. "We wanted to do whatever we can to reduce the anxiety so that people can focus on their care and getting better and not on things like worrying about where to park, what door to go in, where to go once I'm in the building [etc.]."

While patient engagement technologies such as the wayfinding ability aim to help consumers maintain focus on their healthcare, Mr. Dufresne acknowledged that initially making people aware of the function may be one of the biggest obstacles the app will face.

"[The wayfinding capability] is not something people expect these days out of healthcare. They would expect it at other large venues but not necessarily healthcare because it's still a new concept for us," he said. "I think adoption and helping make sure people are aware that the tool is there will be something we need to continue to focus on."

Despite its patient and consumer-centric focus, the new wayfinding function also aims to improve the experience of Abbott Northwestern clinicians and hospital staff, who often get stopped to help people find their way around the hospital. Helping patients navigate the facilities on their own reduces the number of stops for staff, giving them time back to focus on care.

As the healthcare industry pushes to become more consumer and tech-focused, patient engagement technologies like Allina Health's app can become subject to patient privacy concerns. To ensure patient data is secure on its platforms, the health system follows various processes.

"Allina Health takes the security and privacy of health data very seriously," Mr. Dufresne said. "We have a rigorous security and privacy assessment process where every vendor we partner with is put through that process to ensure the security and privacy of the patient information."

The health system also encrypts any patient information captured on its platforms, which bars unauthorized individuals from accessing it. While wayfinding data collected by its app is not transmitted to Allina Health, the health system does receive general data such as how many people used the app and how many routes were completed. 

Allina Health's approach to digital transformation is largely backed by consumerism.

"It means we're looking at customer feedback, conducting consumer focus groups and leveraging other industries and peers within healthcare to better understand what the consumer trends are and their needs and wants as a way to inform our priorities and the design of what we roll out," Mr. Dufresne said.

While there is no hard end date set for the pilot phase, the health system will continue to leverage this innovative mindset before choosing to roll out installations at other Allina Health hospitals. 

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