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Children's Wisconsin:
Mapping the experience of families at the ER

Any time a child has an injury or illness serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, the experience is an emotional and psychological journey rife with opportunities for anxiety and confusion.

Children's Wisconsin wanted to improve the hospital experience for children and their loved ones, and they looked to Highland for help.

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A detailed journey map for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin CHW Journey map,
“According to a study by Anthem Blue Cross, an estimated 68% of emergency room patients could have visited more affordable alternatives like a primary care physician or urgent care. The overwhelming number of ER visits diverts critical time and resources away from patients with severe needs. It also added to patient wait times, negatively impacting the overall patient experience.”


Children's wanted to understand how they could educate parents' about ER alternatives and minimize unnecessary visits, improving the experience for everyone. To do this, they embarked on a patient journey mapping project to understand what's really going on when a parent takes their child to the ER.


Highland facilitated a kick-off meeting with eight key stakeholders across the organization to ensure that their unique goals and priorities felt heard and valued. This group included the hospital’s President, Chief Marketing Officer, physicians, and nurses.

Highland conducted in-person discovery interviews that would help refine the point of view of the Journey Map. Using the Guided Storytelling interviewing technique, these interviews drew out the specific experiences of each parent and their unique touchpoints with Children's.


Once research had concluded, we spent a day in-person analyzing the interview data and capturing the insights and learnings in a journey frame. We reviewed the interview data and plotted the journey of parents going to the ER from an outside-in perspective - staying focused on their thoughts, feelings, and actions throughout their experience.

Children's and Highland map the patient experience

Key Insight: Warm Competency

The journey maps identified the powerful feeling of "warm competency" - a touchpoint in the patient journey where a practitioners’ empathy and expertise combine to reduce stress and anxiety for parents.

Before mapping the patient journey, this feeling typically arose almost ¾ of the way into the patient’s experience in the ER, when they were finally in front of a physician (and only when visiting a select set of doctors who possessed this particular set of skills).

We worked with Children's to understand how they might introduce this powerful feeling earlier in the patient journey and how they could train staff on “warm competency” skills moving forward.

“This process was totally useful. It was amazing to get everybody talking, to see all these interviews come together. It changed peoples’ perspectives and lead us to some real ‘a-ha’ moments we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.”
Jeremy White
Senior User Experience Strategist, Children's Wisconsin
“Had we not done this process we likely would have invested money in the wrong sort of technology. The journey mapping process helped dramatically decrease our risk in technology selection and got us pointed in the right direction as a new team.”
Christopher Neuharth
Director of Digital Health & Experience, Children's Wisconsin
Children's Wisconsin


Using Research Insights to Shift Organizational Strategy

Children's has already begun building warm competency into the everyday experiences of their patients. They now use their mapping artifact as a training tool when onboarding staff at all levels, from medical leadership to administrators fielding calls at the intake desk. The mapping process helped Children's identify a new digital product: an app that would provide parents with videos of doctors describing symptoms for common injuries and illnesses to help parents decide how and where to seek help.

8 weeks from project start to final map

1 new product identified

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