Beacons, App Help Patients, Employees Navigate Huge Clinic

The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center has launched an app that leverages data from beacons to guide patients and personnel around a 3-million-square-foot building.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 19, 2016

Every day, thousands of patients, physicians and researchers travel throughout the miles of hallways crisscrossing the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (NIHCC), located in Bethesda, Md. The clinical center, the nation's largest hospital focused on clinical research, is now offering a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon-based app that helps those individuals navigate the large facility.

The NIHCC employs 2,500 staff members and treats 10,000 patients annually. This summer, the hospital launched the beacon system using Connexient's MediNav digital wayfinding and indoor navigation platform, which helps both patients and personnel get their bearings as they go about their work or visit patients.

The NIH Clinical Center's Eric Cole
The new TakeMeThere app, available at the Google Play and iTunes websites, makes finding anything from a physician to a cup of coffee easier for anyone with a smartphone.

The hospital began offering the free app in January 2016 as a soft launch. Now, says Eric Cole, the chief of NIHCC's Office of Administrative Management, it is promoting the app to all patients and staff members.

The Clinical Center, commonly known as the House of Hope, includes the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center and ambulatory care research facility, along with a new addition, the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center. Collectively, the facility, also called Building 10, boasts a total of approximately 6,000 rooms.

"Part of the challenge of navigating the hospital," Cole says, "is that the structural addition to the original building involved a new room-numbering system that was different than the original structure's numbering system." Even before the renumbering took place, he explains, "it was quite easy for a patient to get overwhelmed at the size of the facility and get lost."

The NIHCC wanted a solution primarily to help patients map out their routes, but it knew that a wayfinding app could also benefit employees who needed to quickly locate offices, meeting rooms or departments. In addition, with an indoor location system using BLE beacons in place, even if patients lacked a smartphone or did not want to download the app, staff members onsite would have access to the app and could easily help a patient requiring directions.

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