Universal Symbols in Health Care

Developing a Symbols-Based Wayfinding System:Implementation Guidebook

Navigating through a hospital or health care facility can be a confusing, stressful experience if signage is not easy to understand, especially for patients with limited English language skills. Hablamos Juntos has developed 54 universally-recognized graphic health care symbols depicting important hospital destinations from Registration and Surgery, to Billing and Infectious Diseases.

Hablamos Juntos, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, worked with the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD) to develop and test the first set of 28 symbols, which have been available for free download since 2005. After receiving a second round of funding from RWJF, Hablamos Juntos and its partners then set about to test and design 26 additional symbols. The full set of 54 symbols is now available to use and can be downloaded via the implementation workbook on the right of the screen.

A collaborative of four design schools worked with Hablamos Juntos and SEGD to design, test and identify symbols that were best understood by linguistically diverse subjects. Schools participating in the project included: Department of Art & Design, College of Liberal Arts at California Polytechnic State University; Digital Design Program, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati; Graphic Design Program in the College of Design at Iowa State University; and School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University.

The symbols were pilot-tested and then permanently implemented at four locations across the country: Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I.; International Community Health Services in Seattle, Wash.; Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.; and Grady Health System in Atlanta, Ga. Hablamos Juntos and SEGD hope that hospitals nationwide will consider incorporating the symbols into their signage and they are taking their message to hospitals and facility design groups across the country.

"Access to health care doesn't just happen when you walk through the door of a health care facility," said Pamela Dickson, M.B.A., assistant vice president for the Health Care Group at RWJF. "Universal health care symbols will be encouragement for many who until now may have been intimidated or confused about finding their way through the health care maze, to seek the care they need with confidence."