How can healthcare organizations make every stage of the patient journey better?
How was your last experience in a healthcare facility? Think about every step of that patient care journey - the phone calls, in person meetings, wait times, communication and all of the healthcare professional/ patient interactions. It’s a lot.
Healthcare organizations are working diligently to improve patient satisfaction and quality of care by asking, “How can we make the patient experience better?” But that’s no mean feat, trying to capture the multitude of challenges patients face when navigating a healthcare journey. That makes improving it even more difficult.
A first, fundamental step to improving patient experience is understanding what that experience looks like today. This is where patient journey mapping comes into play. You can use patient journey maps to understand the highs and lows, pain points and gaps to begin pinpointing which interventions will be most impactful. Then you can assess which changes you have the power to make.
As a result, you’ll be better able 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 specific facility. These touchpoints are either virtual or in-person. They range from the mundane to the nerve-wracking or life-changing. They comprise events from scheduling an appointment online to reviewing post-surgery instructions with a doctor.
It’s key for healthcare professionals and clinicians to recognize the patient journey extends well beyond the most obvious in-person 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 instil a sense of reassurance 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 the likelihood of the patient sticking to the treatment plan
All these individual touchpoints are crucial to understand. Altogether, these positive and negative experiences — no matter how big or small — 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, their 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 must be of the same journey. Often, an interaction that occurs from one point of view will show only one reality. However, further investigation will show the many contributing factors across the care delivery process. This is only apparent by examining multiple perspectives.
Once you understand the entire journey, with pain points, you’ll be able to identify patterns across patient personas and different demographics, and any gaps within the healthcare process. You can then begin asking important questions like:
- 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 care journeys for your patients, you can close any gaps in provision and establish robust preventative routines that ultimately help your patients stay healthier for as long as possible. Engaging consumers and patients based on where they are and what they want, builds trust and confidence. That retains patients in your system and encourages them to make friends and family referrals.
But how does the process work?
- 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. It can help to align the expected service delivery with the actual one.
- Clear routes and direction across medical facilities: hospitals can be incredibly complicated to navigate - whether it’s using 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 secure care for a child is typically an extremely stressful process. Families wait anxiously for updates which can be infrequent and lacking detail. 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 hold 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.
In short, we’re talking happier patients who experience better communication and levels of empathy at every stage of the patient journey.
What tools and methods are used for creating a patient journey map in healthcare?
There are many ways to undertake patient journey mapping, but doing it well isn’t always as simple as it may seem. It’s not a single exercise, moving from A to B. It’s more complex, involving a series of tools.
Our team at Highland has helped a lot of our clients create their first journey map. Grab a bunch of sticky notes and pens to start your map. Our process tends to go like this:
- Chart the course -work out what you want to achieve (your goal); determine whose journey you’re mapping, the start and end points; create the persona(s); think about what the stages of the journey may be.
- Prepare to interview - list your potential questions being mindful that you want the interviewee to recount events rather than share opinions. Schedule interviews with a tool like Calendly. Look into other available data (such as patient feedback).
- Interviews and coding - we interview in pairs so that one can speak whilst the other takes notes. With permission, record the interviews. Afterwards, code the responses according to thoughts, actions, experience etc. We use a simple Google Sheet to do this.
- Building blocks - go through the interviews and notes. Start mapping. Use a specific color of sticky note for each Building Block and add points to the wall in their themes.
- Identify opportunities - “mine” the wall for opportunities, presenting ideas to the team. Together, prioritise the top three or four to tackle.
Repeat this whole process with another persona or goal to examine.
The outcome of this process should be that healthcare professionals can look after patients better. Using patient data collection to underpin your decision-making can transform your organization’s culture to one of continuous improvement. By referring constantly to patient data, you can identify the key areas to amend and improve to better the patient experience. Satisfied customers, those who’ve experienced a near seamless patient journey, will rate your facility highly and they’ll be more likely to generate new referrals.
Improve your customer experience with Highland Solutions’ help
You may know your healthcare facility like the back of your hand, but you only know it from your informed perspective. Getting a 360º view of the patient experience is the first step to improving it. A huge challenge for healthcare leaders like you is to recognize, understand and address 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 your quality of care. It’s not only about uncovering in-depth insights via patient journey maps, but also translating them into actionable strategies to help you bridge any 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 stage 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.
“Working with Highland is a really powerful experience for a company to be able to gain insights. To have real conversations with patients unlocks new pathways, ones that may be uncomfortable and uncover change, but they empower you to move forward in a way that feels really constructive.”
Chris Whitworth, Vice President, Treatment