Isolation precautions are intended to prevent transmission of infectious agents, yet healthcare provider (HCP) adherence remains suboptimal. This may be due to ambiguity regarding the required precautions or to cognitive overload of HCPs. In response to the challenge of changing HCP behaviour, increasing attention should be paid to the role of engineering controls and facility design that incorporate human factors elements. In the current study, we aimed to develop an isolation precaution signage system that provides visual cues, serves as a cognitive aid at the point of care, and removes ambiguity regarding which precautions are necessary (e.g. masks, gowns, gloves, single rooms) when caring for isolated patients.
We employed a user-centred, participatory design approach in which HCPs were actively involved in generating an isolation precaution signage system based on human factors design principles. HCPs were purposefully sampled for each design phase to include a representative sample of potential system users. We conducted front-end analysis through interviews and observations to identify challenges related to the existing signage and to establish design requirements for new signage. This was followed by the creation of user personas, design thinking workshops, and prototyping, which then underwent iterative cycles of evaluation. Graphical symbols were developed and tested for comprehensibility.
Front-end analysis revealed several barriers to use of the current signage system such as unclear target audience, low signal-to-noise ratio, and ambiguity regarding the applicable precautions. A comprehensive list of design requirements was generated. The project ultimately resulted in a collection of validated, comprehensible symbols and signs for contact, droplet, and airborne isolation, as well as the identification of several systems-level solutions for work re-organisation to improve compliance with isolation precautions.
The introduction of visual cues in the form of signage offers a promising opportunity to make guidelines available directly at the frontline. Anecdotal evidence based on observations and interviews with HCP have shown that the current solution is superior to previous isolation signage. User-centred participatory design was a useful approach that holds potential for further improving design in healthcare settings.