By Rachel Neely
Today’s patients are demanding more from their local health systems. A presence in their local community is no longer enough; they’re looking for healthcare providers who fit into their schedule, deliver exceptional customer service, and empower them to manage their own care. Many consumers have even gone as far as to say they want the same experience in healthcare that they get from retailers and other service providers.
This is why the patient experience has taken a front-and-center role in the continuum of care. To deliver a service on par with popular consumer brands, healthcare organizations must think about patient experience not in terms of discrete encounters, but as a nonlinear route that takes place over weeks, months, years, and even generations when you consider newborns. In other words, the patient journey.
What Is Patient Journey Mapping?
Smart health systems continually evaluate their patient experiences using patient journey mapping. This process allows for inspection of the end-to-end pathways that patients follow while seeking and receiving healthcare services.
Kick-starting your journey mapping strategy is a collaborative exercise: Since patients tend to spend more time interacting with marketing materials, healthcare websites, online portals, contact center representatives, and administrative staff than with providers, all patient-facing departments should be encouraged to participate in journey-mapping sessions.
Marketers, providers, and staff should attain a 360-degree view of the consumer and/or their household to completely and accurately map the patient journey and deliver highly personalized experiences that increase patient engagement. Armed with granular information about a patient’s needs and preferences, organizational stakeholders can target patients based on their phase in the engagement cycle. By doing so, health systems will better comprehend care priorities and opportunities to improve patient communication. This, in turn, leads to higher patient satisfaction, long-term engagement, and better care outcomes.
Putting Journey Mapping into Practice
In most cases, it’s not the face-to-face encounter with a provider that frustrates patients. It’s everything else: the repetitive processes and paperwork, inconsistent communication, and a lack of follow-up after diagnosis or treatment, to name a few. During these gaps, patients may become disengaged and even head to the neighboring hospital or retail clinic in search of a better experience.
Multichannel patient engagement strategies close these gaps by deeply understanding the needs of patients. This allows health systems to identify and address specific stages of the patient journey where a patient is more likely to disengage. Typically, this means mining that 360-degree profile to discern the most relevant information on services and education patients may require, with the option to dive deeper into their unique traits and preferences when needed.
This comprehensive view allows health systems to strategically engage with their patients using personalized outreach. The value of frequently deploying targeted patient outreach cannot be understated—in a recent consumer study, the majority of patients reported that their healthcare provider did not communicate enough with them outside of appointments. This can be abated by following the six distinct phases of the patient journey:
- Awareness, where the patient experiences and self-assesses symptoms, leading to online research, discussion with family and friends, or posting to social media.
- Help, where the patient contacts a health system or provider, makes an appointment, or receives other resources.
- Care, where the provider sees the patient, performs an assessment, makes a diagnosis, and suggests treatment.
- Treatment, where the patient receives on-site and follow-up care (surgery, a procedure, medications, physical therapy, etc.).
- Behavioral/Lifestyle Change, where the patient is motivated to make changes to their day-to-day activities in order to reduce the chance of readmission.
- Ongoing Care/Proactive Health, where the patient receives ongoing care management between appointments, promoting long-term engagement and enabling better self-care.
To get the most out of patient journey mapping, drill into each of these six phases for specific patient personas and service lines. For example, create a “Weekend Warrior” segment that targets females between the ages of 35-45 who participate in intensive physical activity primarily on weekends and may consult the orthopedic service line to address a sports injury. Then, leverage data collected through the healthcare CRM to pinpoint common areas of disengagement, such as immediately following rehab. Pair this approach with journey mapping analytics based on claims and encounter data to further break down data silos, providing more opportunity for improvement.
This strategy can be further layered with an advanced contact center solution. An ideal solution should help agents proactively address multiple caller issues at once, from scheduling appointments to handling referrals to making post-discharge calls and closing other communication gaps. Additionally, it must facilitate timely outreach to patients that is in line with their preferred channels, such as email or SMS, considering their current stage in the patient journey. This provides a great avenue to coordinate and optimize multichannel healthcare initiatives.
Positive Outcomes Associated With Patient Journey Mapping
Patient journey mapping provides a trove of benefits to patients, providers, and health systems. Think of how health organizations could use these tactics to promote post-rehab engagement to patients depending on their contact preferences. A college athlete with a sports injury may be most receptive to text messages or an app that delivers useful recovery strategies and ongoing wellness tips. On the other hand, a middle-aged woman who needs orthopedic care after a running injury may prefer a phone call to ensure she’s adhering to her existing care plan.
If that middle-aged woman receives an email reminder, she may never open it. But by knowing she prefers phone calls, you could provide relevant recommendations to accelerate her recovery. Keeping patients engaged with their care and providing these proactive interventions certainly plays a role in enhancing their care quality and overall satisfaction. At the same time, it ensures patients have a clear path to schedule care with you rather than a competitor.
Healthcare is now a consumer-driven industry, and a data-driven patient experience strategy is central to long-term growth. Patient journey mapping is a vital tool for not only analyzing patient engagement and satisfaction, but also identifying when to engage with a patient to promote better outcomes. However, a well thought out patient engagement strategy extends well beyond clinical operations; marketing, administrative services, IT, and finance must also be involved.
Journey mapping allows healthcare organizations to see the patient experience as it really is: a holistic, nonlinear, multichannel journey that can get complicated, even when the clinical diagnosis is relatively simple. The insights gained from journey mapping frequently spark innovations that address unmet consumer expectations and may change how care is delivered. Even small changes have an enormous impact. By using personalized messaging to engage patients via their preferred channels health systems, healthcare providers can consistently provide high-quality patient experiences that create patients for life.
Rachel Neely is vice president of consulting services, professional strategy, and innovation at Mercury Healthcare.
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