Starting Wednesday, veterans and their loved ones at the Wilmington VA Medical Center will be greeted with some new technology: a digital way-finding system with a talking avatar.

"Hello. Welcome to the Wilmington, Delaware VA Center. I'm Val. How can I assist you today?" said, um, Val, which stands for Veterans Affairs locator.

The video image of the woman — an actress from Cleveland — appears on 10 4-foot-tall touchscreen kiosks scattered throughout the medical center.

"The point of Val is to provide a personal touch to the interactive touchscreen system," says Mike Drozda, chief operating officer at Logic Junction, the Cleveland-based company that sells the kiosks.

"She greets you and provides you with information on how to use the system," Drozda explains, "and provides you with directions to get from your starting location to your end destination."

It's the fifth hospital the software company is working with, and a nationwide first for the VA system. Logic Junction and an official from one of its main competitors say the trend toward digital way-finding systems is likely to grow in the coming years.

Over the next year alone, nearly $1 billion in federal payments to hospitals will be based in part on patient satisfaction, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Wilmington VA spokesman Charles Quesenberry says the technology isn't meant to replace the human touch.

The kiosks are just another tool, he says, for making easier medical visits that are often stressful enough.

"Being lost is even worse. It just adds to that anxiety and that fear," said Quesenberry. "So this is a system that's very interactive, very easy to use and it helps you get to where you need to be and really reduces that level of stress."

The project cost $232,000, according to Quesenberry.

Wilmington VA officials say Val may also take up work elsewhere. Other VAs around the country have already expressed interest in cloning her.


Video by Paul Parmalee, WHYY