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Best Practices

Phase II: Universal Health Care Symbols Implementation Project

Filled with plethora of signs and directories, health facilities can be challenging places to navigate, particularly for people who don't speak English. Federal law requires health facilities to display signs that all patients, even those unable to read or speak English, can understand. With language diversity that is greater than the whole of Europe, health facilities in the United States need practical ways to communicate effectively with all populations.

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, Hablamos Juntos initiated exploration of using symbols language to improve communication for limited English-speaking patients in health care and formed an ongoing partnership with the Society for Environmental and Graphic Design  (SEGD). Through this joint effort, graphic symbols were found to be an effective alternative to costly multilingual signs and produced the Universal Health Care Symbol (UHCS) set; 28 universally recognized graphic health care symbols depicting important hospital destinations ranging from registration and surgery to billing and infectious diseases were developed. Unlike the transportation field, in which airports and train stations can be mandated to adopt symbols for directional systems, health facilities will require innovators and early adopters to lead the way.

RWJFs Pioneer Portfolio, supports innovative ideas and projects that may lead to important breakthroughs in the future of health and health care. Now, Phase II funding supports a highly-focused effort to accomplish two main objectives:

  1. Grow the collection of UHCS by forming a consortium of Design Schools for ongoing graphic symbol design and testing
  2. Support evidence-based design and implementation of symbol-based wayfinding systems and signage in four innovator health facilities.

The intent is to develop best practice tools and to document innovator facilities experience in real time to help other early adopters of UHCS.  You are invited to follow the work of our Innovator sites and the Design School Consortium. 

Visit this site often to see our progress.