It's not quite The Jetsons yet, but in another nod to creating the high-tech hospital of the future, a growing number of facilities are turning wayfinding into the next digital revolution. These institutions use electronic kiosks, digital message boards and handheld devices to direct patients and visitors.

The growth of digital signage is riding the wave of new instant-communications technologies and may open up a new world to hospitals, characterized by smart phones and other interactive tools. They allow hospitals to push information to patients on everything from promoting healthy lifestyles to upcoming hospital events and special services, says Chuck Kuczynski, sales manager for the digital group, Clarke Systems, Allentown, Pa.

Electronic messaging also can help as hospital campuses expand and the patient, staff and visitor populations become more ethnically diverse, says Andrea Hyde, a health care consultant based in Baltimore. Traditional fixed signs and bulletin boards are not designed to display information in real time. Digital signage lets providers communicate key information to various stakeholders, reduce waiting times and stimulate sales of additional services, she says.

However, digital signage may not be right for every hospital. "Electronic directories are not the right choice for smaller hospitals," says Patty Hudson, vice president, project design, APCO Sign Systems, Atlanta. "In addition to the initial expense, only one visitor at a time can access the wayfinding information." Also, facility professionals at some hospitals may install high-tech systems for the wrong reason: to look technologically progressive.

Another consideration is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, facility professionals should consider whether signage ought to include Braille and tactile letters.