Mapping the experience of families at the ER

Working with Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to help sick kids and worried parents feel better

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin (CHW) wanted to better understand the complex journey families take when they have a sick child and need to seek care.

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.

Christopher Neuharth, CHW’s recently hired Director of Digital Health & Experience, wanted to use his role to make the hospital experience better for children and their loved ones.

The Challenge

One of Christopher’s top priorities in his new role was to understand where digital improvements could make a meaningful impact at CHW. Christopher and his team decided to make CHW’s Emergency Department their research priority. According to a study by Anthem, an estimated 68% of Emergency Department patients could have visited more affordable alternatives like a primary care physician or Urgent Care. The overwhelming number of Emergency Department patients diverted critical time and resources away from patients with severe needs. It also added to patient wait times, negatively impacting the overall patient experience.

Because CHW already had a Customer Experience Strategy in place, they knew what kind of experience they wanted to provide for their patients. Armed with a clear objective of improving the Emergency Department experience, they partnered Highland to create a Journey Map that would help them understand the ER experience through the lens of parents of young children.

“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 Hospital of Wisconsin

The Process

For CHW’s Journey Map to be a long-term success, they needed leadership buy-in. 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 and CHW worked together to conduct 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 CHW. The transcriptions provided rich data that was key to CHW’s Journey Map. Highland and CHW coded the interviews to better understand the thoughts, feelings, actions, and touchpoints that were important to tell the story of each person's journey.

“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
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Once research had concluded, CHW and Highland 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 Emergency Department from an “outside in” perspective - staying focused on their thoughts, feelings, and actions throughout their experience.

We used CHW’s insights to build a plan of action, with clear steps to be taken by each team member as soon as the project concluded. Christopher and his team were ecstatic to be leaving this project with a clear set of next steps. They left with actual deadlines to put on the calendar and a plan for how to get there.

The Outcome

Through this process, Highland and CHW 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 the Journey Map project, this feeling typically arose almost ¾ of the way into the patient’s experience in the Emergency Room 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 together to understand how CHW could introduce this powerful feeling earlier in the patient journey and how they could train staff on “warm competency” skills moving forward.


The physical Journey Map will be used to aid this cultural transformation at CHW. By following the patient’s journey, CHW understands where they can bring in warm competency earlier in the patient experience. The map is being used as a training tool for CHW staff at all levels, from the medical leadership to the people fielding calls at the intake desk.

As an outcome of the mapping experience, CHW has identified new products such as 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.

Christopher shared that he found doctors' reactions to his team's research to be one of the most impactful moments of the project:

"I think, 'Oh gosh, well, doctors meet with patients all day long. They’ve gotta know this parent experience like the back of their hand.' And they didn’t. And they were very open about that...That was probably the most valuable part of the experience because it proved why you have to do this kind of process from the outside in."

It's clear that this Journey Mapping exercise had an impact that extended far beyond the original focus of Christopher and his digital team. CHW is excited to build warm competency into the everyday experiences of its patients, improving the quality of care for young children and their parents.

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Highland Solutions is a customer experience firm focused on CX strategy, custom software development, and CRM implementation. We help innovative leaders thrive in the experience economy by helping them understand their customers and take smart risks.

Suzanne Fichter

Director of New Business Development