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Hospital Symbols

A Case Study

by Prof. Ravi Poovaiah, IDC IIT Bombay

Hospital symbols: a case study

Communications in India is constrained by factors arising from the very diverse cultural, traditional, lingual and social backgrounds of its people - resulting in potential as well as real situations of communication impasse. A drawback of no mean proportion, it is related to the simple linguistic and cultural fact that in India, there are as many as 14 major languages and about 1,600 dialects. Secondly, many of its adults are perhaps functionally literate but are literally illiterate. Thirdly, people do not communicate easily because of boundaries determined by the cultural-traditional-social denominators of gender-divide that limits the free mixing between the sexes, or among different castes or religious communities.

At the very outset it was discovered that there was no existent data pertaining to the problem of message communications in the domain of health-care services. One reason for this being that at the time of our study, Indian hospitals by and large, did not employ any system of symbols. Five major hospitals run either by the government or the municipality within the city limits of Bombay were therefore chosen for a study of the potentials of symbol development. The results of the study revealed that there were several problems deriving from the absence of a sign system: There was a great degree of confusion that resulted from using a number/numerical system for identifying the departments, counters, etc. It was found for instance, that 35-40% of the first -time users coming to a hospital to utilize health services, invariably ended up standing in the wrong queues. This not only caused loss of time for the user but also undetermined efficiency as a consequence of the considerable confusion and delay caused on both sides- on the part of the patient, as well as on that of the hospital staff. Since the queues were lengthy on account of high patient turnouts, the patient often wasted over half an hour to simply realize this error. It was felt that visual symbols, appropriately used could go a long way in ameliorating these avoidable conditions.

Broadly, the approach was the creation/generation of a large set of possible solutions, which were to be narrowed down, and graphically refined until the final set emerged. The design solution also involved a dialectical movement between the user and the designer, and each stage of the process was modulated by responses from the users.

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