Few patients have spent more time at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus than Iliana Hernandez, and she’s only in her early 30s.
In March 2020, her daughter Esmeralda, then 13, found Hernandez gasping for breath in the shower. The Thornton resident would spend 22 days in an ICU and in inpatient coronavirus care at UCH. Hernandez recovered, but she was being treated for heart failure even before her bout with the virus. Her heart had been in slow decline since she was in labor with Esmeralda all those years ago. The coronavirus changed that. On Aug. 4, 2020, Hernandez received a heart transplant at UCH.
And you thought your 2020 was one to forget.
Seven months later, Hernandez was back on her feet and grateful. Her voice breaks as she says, “I feel alive, and sometimes I feel bad that someone else is not alive and I’m alive.”
With an assist from Esmeralda, Hernandez is taking the time to talk about a feature now embedded in the UCHealth mobile app that aims to save patients a few steps and a dose of stress. Think of it as a sort of Google Maps that takes you all the way to your appointment location inside the five-building, sixty-plus-floor behemoth that is Colorado’s premier adult academic medical center.
The hospital wayfinding app
Let’s be honest: even for experienced hands like Hernandez, UCH can be a challenge to navigate. And even those who have spent weeks in its various spaces often don’t have much of a chance to get their bearings. Hospital staff wheeled Hernandez around when she was an inpatient; her mother and her sisters guided her wheelchair during the many appointments before and after her heart-transplant surgery. When she was strong enough to come back into UCH for appointments on her own, she found herself “just walking back and forth,” as she put it.
“I messed up a lot,” she added.
Hernandez was far from alone, UCHealth leaders have been quite aware. They’ve been working on a way to help patients get where they’re going inside and outside of UCH for more than three years now.
“Our visitors and patients have enough to worry about. You’re visiting family members who aren’t feeling well, or you’re not feeling well yourself,” explains Nicole Caputo, UCHealth’s senior director for Experience and Innovation. “At UCHealth, we’re constantly thinking, ‘mobile first.’ We wanted to use that awesome device in your pocket to ease your mind and make it super easy to understand where you’re going.”
But how? Google Maps and similar mapping technologies harness GPS, which doesn’t work once you’re indoors. Caputo and colleagues wanted something that uses GPS to get patients and families to the parking lot, but also keeps guiding them once they walk or roll into the hospital. They tested systems from a couple of vendors before settling on one from Pointr, an indoor-positioning technology developer.
Pointr had established itself mainly in airports and malls, but the UCHealth team saw the potential of the company’s technology in the big-hospital setting. The software works outside and indoors. Outside, it uses GPS for a location just like other mapping applications; indoors, it uses the phone’s accelerometer and, mainly, Bluetooth, the short-range wireless technology that has replaced countless headphone wires. But unlike GPS, Bluetooth enjoys no U.S. military satellite constellation. Caputo’s team had to install its own constellation: some 3,000 small Bluetooth devices on ceilings throughout UCH.
The team followed UCHealth’s longstanding “one-app” approach and built “Find your way” into the existing UCHealth app. Doing so would ensure patient privacy, a paramount consideration, Caputo says. Privacy extends to patients in the hospital: the wayfinding technology is capable of room-by-room exactitude, but directions stop at the clinic and unit level rather than individual patient rooms, she adds.
‘Find your way’ gets you door-to-door
Indeed, the UCHealth app is where Iliana Hernandez finds “Find your way”: she taps the “sandwich” (those three parallel lines) in the upper-right-hand corner of the UCHealth app, taps “Search UCHealth” in the dropdown menu, and then taps “Find your way.”
A map of the interior of the entire UCHealth complex appears with her location marked by a blue dot. One can browse away, tapping buttons that show, floor-by-floor, the locations of elevators, restrooms, vending machines, cafeterias, cafes, security, pharmacies, and information desks, all of which are marked by distinct badges. Clinics and units appear when she zooms in, or she can search on them and the app jumps to the proper floor and location. Once selected, she can have the app guide her to it.
But that’s only part of the story. If Hernandez has an appointment, “Find your way” knows that because UCHealth’s Epic electronic medical record – the engine behind My Health Connection – taps into Pointr’s technology. “Find your way” provides notification in the UCHealth app and shows the appointment on a map – all Hernandez has to do is click “Go.” “Find your way” works in concert with Google Maps to point Hernandez from home to the best parking lot. Once she’s in the building, the indoor map shows a blue line that guides her from the doors of the building to the doors of the clinic.
“It’s really good, it’s really smart, and it avoids a lot of steps for people who are hurt, are older, or have a hard time getting around,” Hernandez says.
Patients at other UCHealth hospitals can use the wayfinding technology too, Caputo says. Beyond UCH, though, it stops outside the hospital for the time being. She says she expects upgrades at UCH – one day soon, the app may check-in patients automatically as they approach their appointments – and that UCHealth is looking to expand the Bluetooth-based indoor technology to other large UCHealth hospitals.
“It’s a humanizing technology,” Caputo says. “It takes one little stressor away, and it can change your entire experience.”
Patients can download the UCHealth app from the App Store or Google Play or visit My Health Connection to create an account to get started.