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GuidesPatient experiencePatient journey 101: Definition, benefits, and strategies

Patient journey 101: Definition, benefits, and strategies

Last updated

22 August 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

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Today’s patients are highly informed and empowered. They know they have choices in their healthcare, which can put healthcare providers under a lot of pressure to provide solutions and meet their patients’ expectations.

Just like any customer, patients embark on a journey that begins before they ever contact the provider. This makes understanding the journey and where improvements can be made extremely important. Mapping the patient journey can help practitioners provide better care, retain a solid customer base, and ultimately identify ways to improve patient health.

What is the patient journey?

The patient journey is best described as the sequence of experiences a patient has from admission to discharge. This includes all the touchpoints between the patient and provider from beginning to end.

A patient’s journey begins before they even walk through the doors of a doctor’s office or hospital. It may start when they research symptoms, treatment options, and healthcare providers. It can include referrals from friends, information found on social media, or advertisements. Before a patient enters a healthcare setting, they will call to schedule an appointment or book one online. The ease of this process can be key to patient satisfaction.

The patient journey continues through consultation, where they meet the potential caregiver. That portion of the journey includes interactions with a doctor and support staff, how long they wait to be seen, and the steps taken for diagnosis and treatment.

The patient’s post-care journey includes follow-ups from the healthcare provider, post-treatment care, and billing. For example, if the patient has questions about post-surgery care or how to read their invoice, how quickly their questions are answered and their problems resolved will impact their satisfaction.

Mapping the patient journey helps healthcare providers improve patient satisfaction at every step of the way. By collecting data at each stage and conducting an in-depth analysis, providers can identify patient concerns and make the necessary improvements to meet their patient satisfaction goals.

What is another name for the patient journey?

The term “patient funnel” describes the journey patients take from first learning about a healthcare provider or healthcare product to actually making an appointment or purchase. This “funnel” can be applied to any type of business, describing the stages a customer goes through to obtain a service.

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Understanding the stages of the patient journey

Each stage of the patient journey is essential to a positive patient experience. Gathering and analyzing data can alert healthcare providers to potential issues throughout the journey.

Data collection at each of the following stages will give healthcare providers the information they need to make the necessary improvements:

1. Awareness

Awareness is where the patient journey begins. This is when they first research symptoms and identify the need to see a medical professional.

They may consider at-home remedies and get advice from friends, social media, or websites. Once they identify the need for a healthcare provider, they continue their research via review sites, advertising campaigns, and seeking referrals from friends and family.

Determining the way patients become aware they need healthcare and the sources they use for research is important. The data collected at this stage could suggest your organization has an insufficient social media presence, inadequate advertising, or a website in need of an update.

To remedy these shortcomings, you might consider adding informational blogs to your website, performing a social media analysis, or closely monitoring customer reviews.

2. Access

This stage in the patient journey is where the patient schedules services with the healthcare provider.

This engagement is essential for acquiring new patients and retaining current patients. Patients will contact you in several ways to schedule an appointment or get information. Most will call on the first attempt to schedule an appointment.

This is a crucial touchpoint in the journey. A new patient may become frustrated and move on if they find it difficult to access your services or are placed on hold for a long period or transferred numerous times.

Patient engagement occurs in other ways, such as your online patient portal, text messages, and emails. Your patients may interact differently, so it’s important to gather data that represents their preferred means of communication. Work to make the improvements required to correct access issues and ensure efficient communication.

3. Care

The care stage can include everything from your patient’s interaction with the front desk to how long they have to wait in the examination room to see a doctor.

Check-in, check-out, admissions, discharge, billing, and of course, the actual visit with the healthcare provider are other touchpoints in the care stage.

There are a couple of ways to gather and analyze this data. Most organizations choose to analyze it holistically, even if it’s collected separately. For example, you might gather data about the patient’s interaction with the front desk, the clinical visit, and the discharge process, but you may want to analyze the care segment as a whole.

4. Treatment

Treatment may be administered in the office. For example, a patient diagnosed with hypertension may have medication prescribed. That medication is the treatment. Gathering information at this stage is critical to see how your patient views the healthcare provider’s follow-up or responses to inquiries.

In most cases, treatment extends beyond the initial clinical visit. For example, a patient might require additional tests to get a diagnosis. Providing the next steps to a patient in a timely manner and letting them know the test results is crucial to patient satisfaction.

5. Long term

A satisfied patient results in a long-term relationship and referrals to friends and family. Most of the data collected at this stage will be positive since the patient is continuing to use your services.

Gathering data after the treatment stage allows you to expand on the qualities that keep patients returning for your services in the long term.

Benefits of patient journey mapping

The patient benefits from their healthcare provider understanding their journey and taking steps to improve it. Healthcare providers also reap several benefits, including the following:

1. Efficient patient care

When they understand the patient journey, healthcare providers can provide care more efficiently and spend less time and money on unnecessary, unwanted communications.

2. Proactive patient care

Proactive patient care is aimed at preventing rather than treating disease. For example, women who are over a certain age should have an annual mammogram, smokers may be tested for lung disease, and elderly women may need a bone density study. These preventative measures can help keep disease at bay, improve health outcomes, and build trust with patients.

3. Value-based patient care

Patients don’t want to feel they are being charged unfairly for their healthcare. Focusing on the individual patient promotes satisfaction and yields positive outcomes.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued recent guidelines for participants that help offset the costs of high-quality care through a reward system.

4. Retention and referrals

Patients who are happy with their journey will keep returning for healthcare, and happy patients equal voluntary referrals. Many providers offer rewards to incentify referrals.

How to get started with patient journey mapping

Follow the steps below to start the patient journey mapping process:

Establish your patient personas

Journey mapping is a great way to identify your patient’s characteristics so that their experience can be further enhanced.

Some of the following determinations can help you pinpoint your patient’s persona and establish protocols to provide a better service:

  • How do your patients prefer to communicate? Are they more comfortable with phone calls, texts, or other methods?

  • How are most patients finding your services? Are they being referred by friends or family members, or are they seeing advertisements?

  • Would the patient prefer in-person communication or telecommunication?

  • What are the patient’s expectations of care?

This data can be complex and widespread, but it can give you the information you need to more effectively and efficiently communicate with your patients.

Understand the entire patient lifecycle

Each patient is unique. Understanding the patient lifecycle can avoid confusion and miscommunication.

To positively engage the patient, you’ll need to gather data not only about communication methods but where they are in the patient journey, their health issue, and their familiarity with the healthcare provider’s procedures and treatment options.

Understand the moments of truth

With a few exceptions, most people seek healthcare services when they are ill or have a healthcare issue. These situations can cause patients to feel stressed and anxious. It’s these moments of interaction where compassion, knowledge, and understanding can provide relief and reassurance.

When patients see their healthcare provider, they are looking for solutions to problems. It’s the provider’s opportunity to identify these moments of truth and capitalize on them.

Get the data you need

Healthcare providers can collect vast amounts of data from patients, but the data collected rarely goes far enough in analyzing and determining solutions.

Your patients have high expectations regarding personalized treatment based on data. They want personalized, easy access to medical information and records, responsive treatments and follow-up, and communication in their preferred format.

You need more than clinical data to give patients what they want. You also need personal data that sets each patient apart and ensures a tailored experience.

For example, it might be challenging for parents of small children to contact the clinic and schedule appointments at certain times of the day. As a healthcare provider, you’ll need to be aware of the best times to contact this individual and offer simple methods for scheduling appointments.

Another example is patients with physical disabilities. You can take steps to improve their access to and experience at the healthcare facility.

Encourage referrals and loyalty

Although engagement on social media and online forums is becoming more and more common, the best way for new patients to find you is through referrals. Referrals stem from satisfactory experiences and trust.

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