How to Define and Improve the Patient Journey
The patient journey—or the path your patient takes from initial awareness of their symptoms to completion of treatment—is crucial in determining their quality of care.
Today, that journey encompasses many moving parts, including numerous entities, channels for communication, interactions with various members of your team, and the physical and emotional experiences that come with any medical diagnosis.
To deliver the best possible support, care, and treatment for patients, healthcare organizations must define, then frequently evaluate and improve, the patient journey however they can.
In this guide, we’ll explain why defining the patient journey is more important than ever, then walk through 5 actionable steps you can take right now to enhance it.
- The patient journey is unique for different patient groups and provider organizations.
- Defining the patient journey requires knowing your customer, setting measurable goals, and outlining your patient communication channels.
- Patient journey maps are visual tools that can help you identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.
- Healthcare organizations need the support of software automation tools and master data management (MDM) platforms to access and use data to improve the patient journey.
What Is the Patient Journey and Why Is It Important?
The modern patient journey is complex. As patients move through stages of awareness, initial research and provider connection, diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment care, they interact via a number of different touchpoints and communication channels.
At the same time, as you can see in the generalized patient journey map below, they experience a wide variety of emotions and needs at every stage. Each requires different types and levels of care and support.
5 Steps to Define and Improve the Patient Journey
Know Your Patients
At the start of any effort to define and improve the patient journey, it’s a good idea to start with this question: Who are our patients?
At first glance, you might think this question is obvious. After all, you interact with patients on a daily basis. You know your patients well. But this perspective is rooted in boots-on-the-ground, human interaction. It’s a perspective you need, but not one that will help you define the patient journey at a high level.
Instead, take a data-driven approach to answering the original question. Consider demographic attributes of your patients and patient groups, as well as how they’ve changed. Look at the ways they interact with you. Evaluate their feedback.
Then, take a page out of the corporate marketer’s book and define your patients using persona frameworks. What types of people are you serving? What are their motivations for seeking care? What needs do they have when they come to you? What kinds of support do they require to successfully complete the patient journey?
The buyer persona template shown below can give you a starting point for this type of thinking. Consider the questions it asks and how you can translate them to patient support.
For example: Instead of asking “What problems are they trying to solve?” you might ask “What barriers do they need to eliminate in order to access care?”
Image Source: Qualtrics.com
Define Your Goals and Purpose
Next, define the goals and purpose behind your effort to improve the patient journey at this specific time. Are you performing an annual evaluation of the patient journey as part of a larger effort to continually improve, or are you addressing an issue that’s come to your attention?
The way you approach improvement will differ depending on your answer. You might also have other goals in mind beyond the patient experience, like cost savings or operational efficiencies.
It’s important to define these goals at the start so you can keep your efforts outcome-focused and on track. As in the previous step, data is your friend as you go through this process. Look at historical performance and feedback data to determine where your organization is succeeding and where improvements are needed.
Once you have a general sense of what you want to achieve, use frameworks like SMART to be sure your goals are realistic enough to be reached, and specific and measurable enough to hold you accountable.
Image Source: Breeze.pm
Outline Your Channels
Patients now use many channels to communicate with healthcare providers: telephone, email, video chat, live chat, chatbots, patient portals, SMS texting, and more.
Image Source: ecgmc.com
An omnichannel strategy is undoubtedly the best approach to patient communication. Just like customers in the business world, patients are more likely to choose healthcare providers that offer convenient communication options and more responsive service. Further, it’s not enough to just offer those channels—they must also be connected to deliver a seamless experience.
That means in order to optimize your patient journey, you need a strong grasp on the channels you use to communicate, how they operate, and which stages of the patient journey they play a role in serving.
Create a Patient Journey Map
By the time you’ve gotten to this step, you’ve evaluated and defined three key components of your patient journey: Your patients, your goals, and your communication channels.
Now, to identify strategies for improvement, you need a way to look at them in a centralized, holistic way. You can do this by creating a visual representation of the patient journey.
This typically comes in the form of a patient journey map, which we’ve already seen an example of earlier in this article. But patient journey maps can take many forms. As a rule of thumb, your patient journey map should include key stages of the patient journey—i.e. awareness, diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment care—and outline how you interact with patients at each stage.
Here’s a more specific patient journey map example to demonstrate:
Image Source: researchgate.net
Patient journey mapping is the best tangible way to define the journey after you have done your research, and a resource for identifying gaps and opportunities to improve.
Adopt the Right Tools
The scope and scale at which healthcare providers now have to process and store data makes it impossible to define the patient journey manually. It requires the support of automated data management software tools, which streamline and enhance the steps we’ve outlined above.
Automated healthcare data management tools create a stronger understanding of the patient journey and a better ability to evaluate it at any time. The benefits of adopting one include:
- Streamlined workflows and higher efficiency
- A real-time, single source of data truth
- Quicker responsiveness to patient inquiries
- Data-informed decisions and strategies
How MDM Powers a Smoother Patient Journey
Master data management (MDM) platforms are a type of software tool that collects, organizes, and stores data across different entities. In the healthcare industry, it can be a powerful tool for optimizing the patient journey and delivering consistent experiences at every stage.
It allows key contributors and stakeholders to access accurate, real-time information so patients always receive the right information and care.
Contact us today to learn how our MDM platform can help you transform the patient journey today.
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