Jun 16, 2021 7 min read
Patient Journey Mapping: What it is and Why it Matters
A fundamental step to improving patient experience is understanding what that experience is today.
Lead Design Researcher & Strategist
Healthcare organizations are working diligently to improve patient satisfaction and experience of care, asking, “How can we make the patient experience better?” However, it’s no secret that it’s difficult to capture the multitude of challenges patients face when navigating your healthcare journey. That makes improving it even more difficult.
With such a vast landscape of potential interventions, a fundamental step to improving patient experience is understanding what that experience is today. This is where patient journey mapping comes into play. Using patient journey maps, you can understand the highs, lows, and gaps to begin pinpointing what types of interventions will be most impactful, and of those interventions, which changes you have the power to make.
As a result, you will be better positioned to manage your patient’s journey, improve care pathways, and meet—and exceed—patient expectations, needs, and wants.
What is Patient Journey Mapping?
Patient journey mapping works to identify and understand the details of all patient touchpoints within a specific healthcare experience. It helps you visualize the process patients go through to receive care, complete a treatment plan, and/or reach a desired outcome. When done correctly, patient journey maps make it easier for you to identify pain points, discover opportunities, and re-align treatment and care approaches across the entire healthcare system.
What Makes up a Patient’s Journey?
A patient’s journey represents the entire sequence of events or touchpoints that a patient experiences within a given health system, with a specific provider, or within a given facility. These touchpoints are either virtual or face-to-face and can be mundane or nerve-wracking. They can range from scheduling an appointment online to reviewing post-surgery instructions with a doctor.
It is key for healthcare professionals and clinicians to recognize the patient journey extends well beyond the most apparent human-to-human interactions at a treatment facility. The patient journey happens before, during, and after a healthcare service: pre-visit, during-visit, and post-visit. These include but are not limited to:
Finding the right service or practitioner
Scheduling an appointment
Submitting a list of current medications
Arriving at the medical facility
Identifying where to check-in
These experiences can instill a sense of comfort or unease before a patient even receives care. In essence, they set the tone and expectations for the physical visit. A frustrating or confusing experience during the pre-visit stage will impact the emotional state of the patient and family for the rest of their interactions.
Checking in at the front desk
Waiting in the lobby to be called
Discussion with nurses before speaking to a doctor
Family waiting for updates in the lobby during a procedure
Care from doctor and staff
There are an infinite number of touchpoints during the delivery of healthcare. Each one will have a different level of impact on the patient’s experience.
Post-care instructions at hospital
Hospital discharge process
Completing a patient feedback survey
Paying for the medical treatment
Post-surgery calls or online messages from the nurse or doctor
The patient experience after a hospital visit plays a vital role in either reinforcing a positive experience or mitigating a negative one. Actions such as post-appointment follow-ups extend the care relationship and may help improve treatment plan adherence.
All these individual touchpoints are crucial to understand: when strung together, these positive and negative experiences—no matter how big or small they are—comprise the patient journey.
Who are the Stakeholders?
The healthcare ecosystem is complex, involving multiple stakeholders and a wide range of internal and external factors, including:
People (patients—plus families and caregivers—doctors, nurses, administration, parking attendants, volunteers)
Technology and Systems (online registration, parking tickets, surgery updates, mobile app, website, social media)
Facilities (hospital campus navigation, parking availability, building accessibility)
Investigation of all players and systems involved is essential to seeing the multidimensional layers impacting the experience. To do this, patient journey maps should include the perspectives of patients, providers, and staff—and those perspectives should be of the same journey. Often, an interaction that occurs from one point of view may show one reality on the surface. However, upon investigation you see it’s a result of a domino of factors across the care delivery process—only apparent when examining across multiple perspectives.
Once you understand the entire journey, with pain points, you are able to identify patterns across patient personas, and gaps within the healthcare process. You can then begin asking: Which moments are most painful? Why do they happen? What must we change in order to improve the experience? Who must we impact? Which do we have the power to change?
Benefits of Patient Journey Mapping
Patient journey mapping provides the opportunity to turn the healthcare experience from a primarily reactive experience to a proactive one. By building out journeys for your patients, you can close gaps in care and establish robust preventative routines that ultimately help your patients stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Engaging consumers and patients based on where they are and what they want, builds trust and confidence that keeps patients in your system and encourages them to refer friends and family.
Below are a few examples of how that’s possible:
Streamline patient processes and workflows: Upgrading the usability and functionality of online patient portals, websites, and mobile apps can put more control in the patients’ hands, increasing patient flow and cutting operational expenses.
Increase staff efficiency: Enhancing internal online tools and creating automation within systems can assist hospital staff in implementing protocols and schedules, and help them anticipate and solve problems more easily.
Clear routes and direction across medical facilities: Hospitals can be incredibly complicated to navigate—whether it’s finding the right entrance, finding parking, or making your way to the cafeteria for a snack. Improving signage, making visible pathways, and using landmarks to help orient users can help patients and families readily access the resources they need.
Improve communication between patients and providers: Exchanging patient information and coordinating care can be a challenge for providers and a frustration for patients. This misalignment can be due to silos within organizations, incompatible technology systems, or many other factors. Working to bridge the appropriate organizational or technological gap can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
Develop seamless and timely patient and family updates: Waiting while a family member is in surgery or communicating with a doctor to acquire care for a child is typically an extremely stressful process. Families wait on ‘pins-and-needles’ for updates, which can be infrequent and undetailed. Implementing a seamless system for families to communicate directly and receive regular updates, through an app or text, can help ease these pain points.
Better ‘in-between visit’ care and check-ins with patients and families: Communication between patients, including families and caregivers, and providers can feel ‘hit or miss.’ Patients may be scrambling to answer phone calls or missing phone calls only to find themselves unable to get ahold of the provider when they call back. Alternatively, providers are challenged to communicate critical information to a wide range of patients. Establishing better communication systems can improve patient engagement, build the patient’s confidence in the care they receive, and ease the care provider’s job.
Moving It Forward
Getting a 360º view of the patient experience is the first step to improving it. The challenge for you is recognizing, understanding, and addressing the fact that the overall experience is created by the cumulative interactions across the various touchpoints in the healthcare journey: pre-visit, during-visit, and post-visit.
Despite years of expertise, it’s easy for healthcare providers and leaders to develop blind spots for persistent issues in the care process. Partnering with a knowledgeable research team to conduct patient journey mapping will bring expertise and a fresh perspective to the quality level of your care. It’s not only about uncovering in-depth insights via journey maps but translating them into actionable strategies that help you bridge the gaps between current and emerging patient needs and the present state of your healthcare organization.
Once on the right track, you’ll be enabled to manage and grow relationships at every step of the patient journey. The more patient-centric you become, the better experience you build—reaching a higher quality of patient care, patient retention and loyalty, and improved health outcomes and overall well-being.