Modern patients are more aware of their roles as healthcare consumers and know they have options in terms of providers and treatments. As such, today’s patients are empowered to take the reins of their healthcare journeys and have expectations about their care experience. Instead of traditional methods of finding providers like referrals and word of mouth, most healthcare journeys now start with a search engine.
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In fact, 77% of people use search engines when searching for healthcare providers before picking up the phone. And for patients who booked appointments, digital content and presence are keys to decision-making. Therefore, healthcare groups must focus on providing top-tier digital experiences to attract these tech-savvy patients.
To meet and exceed the expectations of modern patients, healthcare organizations must understand the importance of the patient journey. Below, I discuss the definition, importance, the ways in which the patient journey can help you grow your practice.
What is the Patient Journey?
The patient journey is the term used to refer to an individual’s experience throughout a care delivery episode. From scheduling their first appointment to receiving treatment for an illness or injury, the journey describes a series of related events that consumers experience within a healthcare system or across providers.
The patient journey is a process that encompasses all parts of the healthcare system–from hospitals to doctors, specialty care, and outpatient treatment.
While it’s tempting to simplify the patient journey as the before, during, and after the care experience, various stages or touchpoints affect the overall journey. And with the renewed focus on the patient experience due to the rapid shift to value-based care and consumerization, understanding the patient became essential for providers.
Every healthcare system should encourage patient engagement, but not every marketer knows that the path to engagement can change depending on the patient’s healthcare needs, motivations, and challenges. Although patient engagement happens during a single encounter or touchpoint, it doesn’t mean you should only focus your engagement efforts on that encounter alone.
Instead, healthcare groups should develop engagement strategies that cover every step of the healthcare journey. This means having a sound digital marketing plan covering everything from early education and awareness stages to physician interaction and post-hospitalization care.
What Are The Stages of the Patient Journey?
Before you can map the patient journey, you must know about its many stages, including:
Stage 1: Awareness
Awareness is the first step of the patient’s journey. In this stage, the patient has self-assessed their conditions and symptoms and recognized the need for care. Patients at this stage have researched and decided to look for a care provider. Below are examples of how patients learn about healthcare services:
- Online searches (via search engines like Google)
- Review websites and platforms (Healthgrades, RateMDs, Yelp, etc.)
- Marketing initiatives (PPC, Facebook Ads, etc.)
- Community engagement (e.g., public immunization clinics)
When a patient interacts with one of your many touchpoints like your website, call center, PPC ads, a third-party citation, etc., their journey officially starts.
Your practice must have a robust online presence to reach patients in the awareness stage. This is where high-quality, valuable, and SEO-friendly content will come in handy for engaging potential patients. In addition, ensure you have optimized your Google Business Profile or GBP listing, as it plays a crucial role in patients choosing your practice. In particular, ensure your online reputation is on point because 94% of patients use online reviews when deciding on healthcare providers.
Stage 2: Consideration
At this stage, the patient analyzes their options and decides if their healthcare fits their current needs. Some of the primary factors patients take into consideration when choosing healthcare providers include:
- Referrals and recommendations
- Accepted insurance, coverage, and perks
- Patient reviews and testimonials
Patients will likely go to your website and/or social media channels for the consideration phase. One of the main challenges that patients face at this stage is the inability or difficulty to reach or interact with the provider. If that happens with your brand, there’s a good chance they’ll go to your competition instead.
At this point, crafting patient personas will help you determine the preferred method of communication for your ideal audience. Email marketing, targeted ad campaigns, and AI chatbots are excellent strategies for making it easy for patients to choose your brand.
Stage 3: Acquisition
At the acquisition stage, the patient has decided to set an appointment with your healthcare facility. This stage involves direct patient contact, where individuals will interact with your practice via phone calls, patient portals, social media accounts, emails, and SMS.
The acquisition stage typically involves the patient’s first appointment with your clinic or health center, aka a preliminary check-up. This interaction can be an in-person visit or a telehealth consultation which took off during and after the pandemic.
In the acquisition, some challenges that patients may face include:
- Unable to quickly find appointment links or booking portals
- Limited communication surrounding their appointment
- Lengthy wait times result in poor patient satisfaction
- Dealing with extensive paperwork before meeting a healthcare practitioner
At this stage, healthcare providers who want to facilitate patient acquisition should consider digital solutions like patient scheduling software such as NexHealth and Solutionreach. These programs can provide benefits like automated appointment bookings and minimizing the chance of no-shows.
Stage 4: Care Delivery
The care delivery stage is where your healthcare team shines–basically, where medical care is provided to patients. This journey stage is where the bulk of traditional patient satisfaction is evaluated. This step includes the standard care provisions, including medical consultations, regular check-ups, management and treatment, payment, and registration and discharge.
After choosing your practice, the patient will shift their focus from your online presence and reputation to quality of care. At this point, your main challenges are administering appropriate medicine and treatment and living up to the patient’s expectations. As such, the quality of your service will be evaluated. In general, patients will base their opinion and feedback on personal experience.
At this stage, there are various tools you can use to ensure the highest patient satisfaction, such as:
- A billing or patient management software like DrChrono and CureMD, for example.
- A customer relationship management (CRM) platform for managing patient relationships and unifying data.
- A review solicitation or feedback collection software like Birdeye and Podium
Stage 5: Ongoing Care and Patient Loyalty
In any healthcare setting, attracting new patients is more resource-intensive than retaining current ones. When it’s more crucial than ever to optimize marketing spend (especially in the post-pandemic era), healthcare organizations should also focus on fostering loyal patient relationships. Below are some of the most common strategies to increase patient retention:
- Improved communication: Ensure your care team correctly relays information and compassionately resolves concerns.
- Interactions during in-patient visits: According to a recent Medscape study, most doctors, on average, spend 13-16 minutes of face-to-face engagement. You can differentiate your practice by going above and beyond by interacting with patients between visits. Short phone calls and personalized healthcare tips can go a long way in retaining patients.
- Streamline the appointment process: Use digital solutions like patient portals and mobile apps to streamline the appointment process. Automated SMS and appointment reminders can also reduce no-shows.
- Manage your online reputation: Your digital reputation doesn’t just affect patient acquisition but retention as well. Be proactive with monitoring conversations about your practice. Thank all patients for their feedback, and reply to negative feedback or complaints with compassion.
- Excellent bedside manners: Treating patients compassionately and with respect will establish strong physician-patient relationships. With every appointment, you can make a positive impression among your current patients and help develop loyalty–soon, they’ll also become brand advocates.
Always keep an eye on your patients’ aftercare and track all your interactions with them. This enables you to provide personalized experiences, which lead to better patient outcomes and higher satisfaction.
What is Patient Journey Mapping, and How Can It Help Grow Your Practice?
The best way to leverage the patient journey to improve healthcare outcomes and experiences is through journey mapping. Patient journey mapping, also called healthcare process mapping, is the exercise healthcare leaders use to understand better how patients interact with a healthcare system or practice throughout their journey.
The patient journey map helps the stakeholders to analyze the patient experience from various perspectives. With proper journey mapping, patient engagement and satisfaction are increased through the development of strategic outreach.
Benefits of Patient Journey Mapping
Mapping the patient journey is challenging, but the benefits are more than worth the effort. Here are some key benefits of mapping the patient journey.
Personalized Patient Experiences
With physician-focused healthcare of the past, you can get away with providing one-size-fits-all care experiences for patients. After all, you’ll have a consistent patient pipeline as long as you provide care. That’s not the case anymore with today’s healthcare that shifted toward consumer-driven and value-based care.
Patients are empowered to control their healthcare journey by arming themselves with information and researching their options. In fact, a recent survey said 72% of patients want healthcare explicitly tailored to their medical needs. Therefore, at the core of the patient engagement playbook is personalized experiences. With customized patient experiences, you can:
- Provide flexible care
- Improve patient-physician communication
- Provide omnichannel options
- Engage patients in various touchpoints
- Assess and evolve your services
Patient journey mapping enables your organization to understand your patient’s needs, preferences, and circumstances–which is vital for personalized care experience.
Once again, your main goal in mapping the patient journey is to lift the veil around the authentic experiences of your patients–including every touchpoint, interaction, and pain point. This feat is achieved through intensive data collection and qualitative research, enabling individuals to express their thoughts and feelings. You can count on improved and more effective communication once you have a holistic picture of the true patient experience.
As you might know, effective communication relies on a positive provider-patient relationship. Since you clearly oversee the patient experience in each stage of the journey, your team can identify the gaps and opportunities to improve communication. For example, mapping the patient journey lets you specify the communication pros and cons. As such, providers may reduce the use of technical terms or medical jargon to help patients better understand the circumstances around their health.
Identify Ways to Identify Aftercare
Journey maps will also allow you to identify ways to support the patients after the treatment concludes, during recovery, and ongoing care/maintenance. For instance, patients with medical conditions or who have undergone major surgery often must comply with a broad routine of medications, behavioral changes, and adaptations to a new lifestyle.
With patient journey mapping, you can find out how patients manage and deal with their day-to-day after treatment which may spark innovations in products and services that may lead to better health outcomes. Improving the quality of your aftercare services can impact patient retention and build a more positive reputation within your communities.
Steps to Map the Patient Journey
Here are the most critical areas to focus on when mapping the patient journey
1. Establish Patient Personas
Figure out the type of patients who are coming into your clinic and ask the following questions:
- What are the patients’ most relevant needs?
- What are their engagement preferences with your brand?
- What are their healthcare and communication needs?
- What information do you already know about your patients?
- What role do your services play in their life?
- What are the challenges and pain points for receiving care?
An in-depth understanding of your patients will allow you to craft the best possible patient experience. To achieve this, you need a robust data collection system where you can analyze and predict the needs of the patients. Once you have honed in on your patient personas, you can segment them into different groups where you can deliver care based on their unique needs.
2. Track and Monitor Patient Activity
One of the most potent tools in journey mapping is omnichannel listening because it gives you a clear picture of the patient’s behavior and perspectives when engaging with your brand. This allows your organization to be in the patients’ shoes as they navigate your system.
Understanding the patient’s lifecycle from their perspective will significantly help with journey mapping, if not essential. As such, you should track and monitor the various pathways patients take when interacting with your brand.
Understand the Moments of Truth
The internet has changed how patients behave as healthcare consumers. People will research their conditions, symptoms, and provider options before booking an appointment. Google refers to this as Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)
The very best healthcare marketers understand the importance of moments of truth. Basically, every time a patient interacts with your brand, it’s an opportunity to provide a positive experience–to relieve their concerns and get them one step closer to recovery. It’s up to you to make these interaction points or moments of truth a positive experience.
3. Develop Integrated Patient Units
Mapping patient journeys is a massive undertaking for any healthcare organization, and it’s a cross-department effort. Thus, it’s vital to integrate roles, specialties, and departments within the organization to ensure a single source of truth and coordinated care delivery.
Synchronizing different departments and their information will enable your practice to prioritize patient needs. For example, in-patient, outpatient, and rehab services are all coordinated by integrated patient units.
For this purpose, you need a healthcare CRM system to unify patient data and enable care teams to collaborate better.
As healthcare becomes more consumer-driven, fostering patient engagement isn’t just a best practice anymore but an absolutely essential initiative. Modern healthcare consumers want to be engaged, and mapping their journey will let you engage patients throughout the entire continuum of care. By mapping the patient journey, you’re transforming the patient’s healthcare into a more proactive experience.