#CityTrips: The Government Hospital

Dad: “Going for medical check-up.” Me: “OK, I follow.”

Someday, I’m pretty sure service design, the design of how we experience services, is going to bring massive impact to Malaysia. But it’s gotta start somewhere for now.

When my dad and I first went to the government hospital, we waited for two hours assuming to be in queue for an actual check-up. But when we discovered an ‘appointment date’ was due for another three weeks, it immediately became clear hospitals are so worth a design study.

This is not meant as a critique of governmental bodies, the staff are real champions and the overall public benefits are tremendous.

So three weeks later..

Arrival to Main Facility

Once we reached the main building, we were greeted by a massive sign on the left (in pic) and an info counter on the right. Seems decent although the counter is hardly noticeable blending obscurely with everything in there.

‘!’ Patients and visitors should at anytime know where to find help instantly. That makes prioritising visual cues to be imperative.

left) the main signage, mid) walking through main passageway, right) this is for sure economy class seats

Right from the get-go, navigation is probably the most important thing entering a hospital. If you came in here clueless (like me), you will have to pay that ignorance with a fair bit of wasted time.

‘!’ IKEA has a great way of educating customers about their store layouts and even if you feel lost you never really feel lost. Wonder if hospitals could use that?

Walking the Walkways

The previous sense of openness comes to a halt when we entered the walkway. Just imagine this long connecting tube that on each side reveals a main department, sub-department and some other nondescript room.

Not meant to scare you, but sometimes quite scary also.
Probably lots of apologies made while moving through.

‘!’ Sunlight really opens up tight spaces. Another thing about the hospital is just the lack of natural lighting.

At this point passing through the walkway, there’s a sense of seriousness at work. Moving equipments, sick patients and groups of doctors all clustered in one single passageway.

The photo below depicts an environment where clarity is compromised with sensory overload. It’s not so much about creating beautiful, clearer signs but how to create wayfinding that is adaptable overtime?

They make a lot of sense individually, but not on first glance.

The Waiting Room

We reached the Surgery Clinic (can’t recall actual name) where my dad’s check-up happens. Finding this place was not too difficult. But as soon as we stepped in the first question was “OK, what now?”

There’s always some learning to do when entering a new area. In service design, there’s a principle called sequencing. Basically, it’s like film editing for real life — this connects to this, that and so on. Maybe a better introduction would help here.

left) upon entering the main area, right) make yourself comfy for the next hour or two

After talking with the patient counter staff, we were assigned to take a number as any standard procedure. Some random idea popped up:

The smiley has to have the exact shade of sunshine.

For instance.. what if every major area had a bright-yellow smiley grabbing attention for newcomers to quickly get help?

We scuffled to find the best seat but of course it was designed to fit as many as possible. Very similar to local bus stations. Hospitals are kind of utilitarian. Here’s the best view in the house:

Here’s where people are most somber — one TV repeats a movie commercial, another repeats a documentary on Dementia.. aiyo

After 30 minutes sitting and observing, Malaysians seem like the most tolerant people in the world. I think most locals are instinctively trained to ‘shut down’ when needed. It really helps with getting through daily crappy situations. It shows that when things are cheap or free, people are willing to compromise with inconvenience and time.

The yellow smiley must be present everywhere.

Waiting is like golden uninterrupted for the hospital.

‘!’ What about a feedback and education booth for sharing patient experiences and learning some potentially useful hospital information?

Soon, it was my dad’s turn. We were both relaxed. He went for his thing and I went scouting for anything potentially interesting.

The Open Spaces

Making random turns at some junction, I found this. Nothing so uplifting than discovering an outdoor, canopied cafe. It suddenly transport me from close quarters of the hospice to somewhere familiar — ahh, nice.

In here, you can’t tell who’s a patient, family or staff distinctly.

Open spaces are like these pockets of oasis. Sometimes it’s better to be less reminded about present situations especially waiting for medical outcomes and other such anxieties.

‘!’ These spaces are super useful as restriction-free zones for patients and doctors to freely interact outside of conventional circumstances.

If only more open spaces were made accessible, like this one!

Dad called, “Where are you?” — He was equally pleased to find this little cafe spot. “Hey! Wish I was here just now.” Based on what he ordered for breakfast, I was quite assured there was nothing serious. Thank God that turned out true. Eat, talk, eat.

Getting Meds!

Next up, we headed to the Pharmacy to collect some medicine. Welcoming us into this process was the overwhelming high-vaulted ceiling and iconic stained glass windows.

It seems super chaotic, but kudos to how they run this high functioning warehouse shipping facility. Things were sorted out fast. Another waiting episode follows…

It’s like a pentagon with the center as the core distribution for all medication and surrounding it are waiting customers

Amidst the visual disarray, I found the constant alarming mini kiosk-like sound to be very intensifying. Sometimes it’s the combination of senses that put us in a state of unnecessary tension.

‘!’ I guess it’s as easy as using another audio clip?


After 30–40 minutes of payment and collection, we’re OUT. Over.

At the end of the day, no one expects a government hospital to blow them away. Just work like how I expected it.

Hospitals may seem like a morbid, lackluster kind of place. But actually, they’re brimming with life. It’s where patients muster courage and hope to remedy their predicaments, and where doctors and staff are brave for their belief in the well-being of whom they serve.

Experiences are either needs or wants. We either need to go somewhere, or we want to go somewhere. All that helps make things better are the anticipations we can craft for people.

Are there any efforts in Malaysia that could help rethink / redesign government services in general? Feel free to share some thoughts. Thanks!

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