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The Patient Journey: What it is and Why it Matters

By 10.12.20 Healthcare worker at home visit
Reading time: 6 minutes

Healthcare is under enormous pressure today.

Patient expectations about their service and experience have changed over the years. Patients have more choices about their care, and they’re more empowered with information about what they want their care experience to be. They expect you to interact with them on their terms, not yours. And with COVID-19 turning so much of our lives digital, this trend has only accelerated.

Having a robust marketing automation approach is critical to addressing these challenges in today’s environment. Meeting — and exceeding — patient expectations comes down to managing your patient’s engagement journey. 

How can patient journeys improve care?

What patient journeys can do is turn the healthcare experience from a primarily reactive experience to a proactive one.

By building out journeys for your patient personas, you can close gaps in care, establishing robust preventative routines that ultimately help your patients stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Engaging consumers and patients where they are builds trust and confidence that keeps patients in the system and encourages them to refer their friends and family to your practice. According to the Beryl Institute, 70% of patients will share a positive experience with others. But your bigger risk is that 76% will share a negative one. And with a negative experience, 43% of patients won’t go back to that provider, with 37% finding a different doctor altogether.

What is the patient journey?

A patient journey represents the entire sequence of events that a patient experiences within a given healthcare system or across providers, from scheduling an appointment for a regular checkup to receiving treatment for an illness or injury. 

A patient journey is an ongoing process that incorporates all parts of the healthcare ecosystem, from hospitals to physicians, specialty care, and outpatient therapy.

While it is easy to think about a patient’s journey as those interactions you have with them before, during, and after an appointment, there are actually many other touchpoints that drive their overall journey. A comprehensive patient engagement strategy touches on all aspects of a patient’s relationship with a healthcare provider, including:

  • Onboarding and Access 
  • Awareness
  • Education
  • Diagnosis and Treatment
  • Adherence to Lifestyle or Behavioral Changes
  • Ongoing and Proactive Health (Wellness)
  • Referrals and Loyalty

How do I create the patient engagement journey?

Every single interaction with a patient is part of the patient engagement journey and a moment of truth for the health system or provider to add value.

In today’s value-based healthcare world, having that personalized experience is more important than ever. A patient engagement journey organizes those communication touchpoints and ensures you’re delivering the right information at the right time to the right person, and leveraging the appropriate communication channel. Millennials and Generation Z, for example, may be more likely to prefer a text, email, or chat to a phone call.

It’s about knowing your patients’ preferences — like that they prefer to be texted during the day while they’re at work or if they prefer an office vs. telehealth visit — and what’s going to make it easier for them, like sending automatic reminders the week and day before an appointment.

Whether it’s making sure you follow up with cardiac patients about weighing themselves daily after surgery to catch any water retention issues or asking colonoscopy patients whether or not they’ve been following post surgery protocols after discharge, it’s about continuity of care once a patient leaves the office or hospital so they have a quality outcome. From there, patients can more proactively drive their own wellness plan.

Here are important areas to focus on when creating your patient engagement journey:

Establish your patient personas

You need to know the different types of patients that are coming into your organization. You want to figure out:

  • What are the most relevant needs of your patients?
  • What are their communication and care preferences?
  • How do they want to engage with you?
  • What information do you already know about them?

To be able to craft the best possible patient experience, you first have to know more about your patients.

For example, there’s a well-known healthcare persona out there called the “Medical Mom” (which can, of course, be any individual taking care of themselves, their kids, their spouses, and may also be the caretaker for aging parents). 

Let’s say this individual has three children, and they book annual physicals at their pediatrician, which happens to have offices in the same building as their own primary care physician. Wouldn’t it be nice if the office sent them one email reminder to schedule all five appointments, rather than five different emails? And when they do call, scheduling those appointments back-to-back so everyone is in and out in one afternoon?

A spreadsheet is not going to be able to do that for you. Collecting and managing the data required to drive complex, interconnected patient journeys requires more than a spreadsheet. In order to succeed, you’ll need to pay close attention to the entire patient lifecycle.

Understand the entire patient lifecycle

An appointment reminder is a great start to engaging a patient, but it’s just one event in an ongoing patient lifecycle that begins with preventative care and includes diagnostics, delivery of care, and post-operations.

For example, how many patients show up for routine blood work at their physician office and you find out they haven’t fasted for the appropriate amount of time? Sending a patient home is frustrating for them and it’s frustrating for you. If the appointment is at 2:00 PM, then that appointment reminder should have been sent at dinnertime the previous evening, reminding them that they can’t eat anything after a 6:00 AM breakfast the next morning.

You’ll want to tailor your communications based on whether the patient is new or existing, what their preferences are, and whether they have any specific or chronic health issues. From there, you need to…

Understand the moments of truth

The healthcare system is complicated, even for those who have been a part of it for decades. The key to building a great foundation for your patient engagement strategy is to put yourself in a typical patient’s shoes. Most patients don’t engage with the healthcare industry unless they’re feeling sick. That means they’re rarely at their best, and they’re not only anxious about getting better, but about the costs associated with that.

The best healthcare providers understand the moments of truth — opportunities for a positive touchpoint that can alleviate their stress and anxiety and help them get on the road to recovery. Every time you interact with a patient is an opportunity for a moment of truth, whether that be in person or via other channels of communication.  It’s not only about establishing accurate moments of truth, but capitalizing on them.

It’s up to you to understand the places people need to be, how you want to communicate to them, and make every one of those touchpoints a positive experience. It doesn’t matter whether they’re physically in your office or not. Your patient engagement journey is what guides your patients to making the best possible decisions on their care so they get better. 

The easier you make it for them to engage with you, the higher quality their care will be.  Ultimately, you want your patients to be evangelists for your services based on their positive experiences. To do that, you’ll need to…

Get the data you need

Your patients expect personalization.

Personalization in healthcare used to mean created tailored treatment plans and clinical protocols. That’s still important, but patients expect more personalization around the entire experience, from access to communication to quality outcomes. It’s like turning on a light switch in your home: a patient just expects the light to turn on. 

Personalization today means being able to see at-a-glance a patient’s healthcare record, communication preferences, and social determinants that may be impacting their overall health to give you a 360-degree picture.

To do this, you need more than clinical data.

You may have patients that constantly miss their appointments. By storing questions that go beyond health risks — say, that they’re a smoker — but to understand that they don’t have a car to get to the appointment in the first place is becoming a more important part of the process. Part of empathetic, compassionate care is understanding these environmental factors that can help patients get the care they need, whether that’s calling a Senior Shuttle, caregiver, or arranging a telehealth appointment instead.

Once you have the data, you can…

Encourage referrals and loyalty

The first place people look for a new doctor isn’t the Internet. It’s their friends and family. In an ideal world, every patient you have should be able to say, “Oh, I loved my experience with…”

Doing that starts with the technology you have. Before a patient ever comes in for treatment, you need to make sure they have a seamless experience that builds trust and encourages referrals and loyalty. 

How do I get started with patient journey mapping?

It’s time to move away from the mindset to simply fill the top of the funnel with as many new potential patients and contacts with caregivers as possible. While this is still a requirement, it is just as crucial for organizations to get better at managing and growing relationships at every phase of the patient journey. Providers must engage with consumers in the marketplace to introduce them to their services of course, but it is of growing importance that they offer support throughout the entire diagnostic and treatment process. 

As a Salesforce Platinum Partner with deep industry expertise, we have created a Foundation for Patient Engagement package — a complete strategy that starts with Health Cloud and facilitates a 360-degree view of the patient, as well as a comprehensive communication strategy, CTI integration, and the use cases driving patient acquisition, engagement, and loyalty.

Learn more about building your patient journey with Silverline.

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