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The complete guide to patient journey mapping

Last updated

3 June 2023


Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Every patient is on their own health journey, but is your organization getting the most out of every interaction?

Providing high-quality healthcare is an incredibly complex process. Many patients take an ever-changing path as they move through the healthcare system, making it hard to map out exactly what journey they will take. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

A patient’s journey begins the minute they enter the healthcare system. It lasts the entire duration of their care. Every interaction a patient experiences is a touchpoint your organization can (and should) be monitoring—especially if you want to improve patient satisfaction.

You can take a proactive approach to patient care by mapping out someone’s future steps before they even take them. Let’s get into the many benefits of patient journey mapping.

What is a patient journey?

A patient journey is a step-by-step pathway that outlines every interaction a patient has with the healthcare system as they receive care. The length of each patient’s journey is unique to their specific situation, and it starts when they reach out to a healthcare professional.

Below are some examples of patient journey touchstones. They depend on the type and duration of care a patient needs.

  • Researching services

  • Booking appointments

  • Telehealth conversations

  • Specialist referrals

  • Care wait times

  • Diagnostic testing

  • Access to supportive services

  • At-home care and rehabilitation

Patient journey vs. patient experience

Every patient journey is impacted by their experience. Patient journey and patient experience are related terms, but they have different definitions.

Patient journey

Defined as the pathway a particular patient takes as they interact with the healthcare system, a patient journey is a list of steps that varies depending on a person’s care needs.

The goal of patient journey mapping is to better understand the pathway and experiences a patient will have as they interact with an organization. When done correctly, this will facilitate more positive outcomes at every step of the way.

Patient experience

At every step of a patient’s journey, they build and develop an overall experience. Repeat exposure to kind and helpful healthcare professionals leads to a positive patient experience. Things like long wait times, sub-par patient care, and poor communication are all examples of factors that can create a negative patient experience.

What is a patient journey map?

A patient journey map is a visual tool created by an organization looking to better understand how patients interact with their system. Created with key stakeholders in mind, the goal of a patient journey map is to gain helpful insights into:

  • When, why, and how patients access your services

  • The level of care they receive at every step of the process

  • Patient experiences and preferences

  • Any inefficient pathways that can be improved to boost patient retention and satisfaction

Using a patient journey map, your team can get a glimpse into how patients interact with your organization. You can use this to make improvements that increase patient retention.

The five stages of the patient journey

While every patient’s health journey will be unique based on their specific needs, there are some consistent touchpoints that your team can monitor. This will give them a holistic view of the overall process.

In most cases, every patient journey follows these five steps:

1. Awareness

Awareness refers to two different types of patient realizations:

Identifying their personal need for care

Different people seek medical care at different levels of discomfort or disease progression. However, this factor isn’t something your organization can map out. The amount of care a person will need (and their journey moving forward) will depend on the severity of their presenting symptoms. This will dictate the urgency and level of care they require.

Becoming aware of your health organization

A patient will need to research their available options once they realize they need medical care. This phase of discovery and awareness includes reading reviews, talking to family and friends for recommendations, and looking on social media.

2. Consideration

Next, the patient has to weigh the pros and cons of receiving care from your specific organization. During this stage, the patient will ask themselves:

  • Does this organization provide the type of care I need?

  • Do they accept my type of health insurance?

  • Do they have good reviews?

  • Do I need a referral to book an appointment?

Positive responses to these questions are essential for ensuring that the patient continues along their journey to receiving care from your organization. This highlights the importance of tracking data for improved patient retention and experience.

3. Access

If the patient decides to move forward with your organization, they then book an appointment and enter the access stage of their journey.

In order to increase the volume of patients who enter this stage and progress forward, your organization should focus on the following:

  • Appointment wait times

  • Patient engagement

  • Multichannel communication

  • Online and social media presence

4. Service delivery

Next, the patient arrives for their appointment to transition into the service delivery phase.

Aside from providing high-quality, compassionate, and effective care, your team should also prioritize the following:

  • Creating a safe and inviting in-office environment

  • Opportunities to improve patient experience during check-in and check-out

  • Patient relationship building

  • Billing and insurance claims

5. Continuing care

Finally, after receiving the service and treatments they need, the patient begins the final stage of their journey.

As part of continuing care, your organization can build a long-term relationship with patients. Finding ways to incentivize patient loyalty is a great way to book recurring appointments, allowing your organization to grow and expand.

The four types of patient journey maps

With the following steps acting as a general outline, there are different types of patient journey maps that your team can make to learn more about your target audience. Here are some of the most commonly used patient journey maps:

1. Current state

A current state map gives you information about what’s currently occurring within your organization. This map includes information about how your current patients interact with your services, how they feel, and what they think.

Data collected for a current state patient journey map will act as a helpful baseline as your team begins to integrate initiatives to improve patient satisfaction.

2. Future state

A future state patient journey map is more of a hypothetical map. It’s created with your optimal pathway in mind. It’s a helpful resource for teams looking to identify areas of improvement. You can use it as a point of comparison to your current state information.

How does what your patient currently experiences compare to what you want them to? What can you do to improve this pathway in the future?

These questions can be discussed as part of your team’s brainstorming sessions when creating this type of journey map.

3. Day in the life

Instead of focusing on a generalized overall experience, a day in the life patient journey map is specific to a certain area of care or type of patient.

You can create a day in the life patient journey map using a patient persona. This is a set of descriptors of a particular group of people you regularly serve. Your day-in-the-life patient journey map will aim to show a detailed and accurate representation of how this patient interacts with your organization.

By factoring in unique situations and characteristics that describe a specific group of people, your team can collect valuable insights into how you can better serve and target these patients.

4. Service blueprint

As a combination of current state and future state patient journey maps, a service blueprint map acts as a simplified version of both.

By adding layers to the map, your team can factor in the people, processes, and potentially limited factors surrounding each unique interaction your patients have with your organization.

Photo recommendation: https://slidemodel.com/wp-content/uploads/21359-01-service-blueprint-powerpoint-template-16x9-1.jpg

The primary use of this type of patient journey map is to pinpoint the specific causes of patient satisfaction. Is a particular booking program sending out too many confirmation emails leading to patient irritation? Are wait times too long? Do your providers make a good impression on new patients?

This type of patient journey map allows your team to focus on small factors that may be causing large-scale issues. It’s a helpful resource as you change your current processes for better results.

How to create a patient journey map

Creating a detailed patient journey map is a great place to start if your organization is looking to improve patient satisfaction and become a preferred provider in your local area.

No matter what type of medical services you provide, you can benefit from understanding the most common pathway to care for your patients.

Identify your audience

What types of patients do you usually serve? Do they have common traits and characteristics you can identify?

Every patient’s specific journey is different, but their overall journey forward will probably be quite similar. Taking the time to get specific about who you currently serve (and who you may want to serve in the future) is an essential early step in patient journey mapping. This information will be incredibly helpful as you look to improve your current system.

If you offer a wide variety of services or have varied patients, you may need to create multiple patient personas to truly capture your audience.

Specify patient goals

Now that you have a patient persona, your team needs to put themselves into the patient’s shoes and explore their motivations, concerns, and needs. The type of care you provide and its level of urgency will play a significant role in what motivates your patients to seek out your care.

Starting at the earliest stage of the journey, your team should consider every possible interaction a patient may have with your organization to get a full picture of their experience. The more detailed you can be, the better. These insights can be translated into actionable plans later on.

Establish patient steps

Next, do your best to map out how your patient would move through their journey with your organization.

Where do they hear about your services? How do they book appointments? Who will they talk to, and what recommendations will they likely receive?

It’s probably impossible for you to map a patient’s steps perfectly, but this activity helps shed light on your current process. Once you start collecting more information and data, you can update these steps to better represent the customer’s journey.

Research and uncover information

As your team begins to plot points on your patient map, you will quickly notice that new information and data from patients will change the original outline you created. And that’s okay!

New information and insights are the goals of this entire exercise. They allow you to improve on your current system to better serve your patients. As these changes develop, your team will gain further insights into the primary areas you need to address to improve your process. Over time, this will result in improved processes and happier and healthier patients.

Perfect your patient journey map with Dovetail

Patient journey mapping is essential for improving your current health services. As tempting as it can be to focus your resources and time on other areas, mapping out your patient’s journey and learning about their experiences is a great way to gain valuable insights into areas you can improve.

As your team begins to collect more patient information, insights-driven software like Dovetail can be an incredibly helpful tool. Capable of storing and analyzing several types of data, your team can use Dovetail to enhance and improve their patient journey map and better serve your patients.

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