Unlocking the patient experience with journey maps

Think like your patient
Patient satisfaction is more important than ever as medical costs and insurance premiums rise, and consumers find a greater financial risk associated with their own care. Consequently, patients make sensible and rational decisions about the value and benefits that accrue from their purchasing behaviour.

The patient experience represents a critical component of a medical practice’s ability to attract and retain patients. When patients have positive experiences, they develop trust and become more engaged in their own care and develop a stronger sense of loyalty to your organisation.

Perhaps the biggest buzzword in customer experience is “engagement”. Engagement is a measure of how much customers feel they are in a relationship with a product, business or brand.

For a medical practice, it can be challenging to get inside the minds of your patients and one of the best tools for examining engagement is the customer journey map.

The steps to mapping out the customer journey 
The customer journey is the process by which a patient interacts with a medical practice in order to achieve a goal and a journey map is a visual representation of the process. These interactions may be via the telephone, online or in-person.

A customer journey map is a useful tool to understand the steps a customer goes through when engaging with a healthcare practice, and the actions, thoughts and emotions your patients will experience from the first to the final touchpoint.

As different patients experience the practice in different ways, the first step is to define personas. A persona is a fictional character created to represent a specific, but typical, type of patient and may include, for example, a mother with young children or an elderly patient. You need to create personas for different patient types and use them to describe the different experience of different personas at different touchpoints.

The second step is to define your customer stages and identify touchpoints. Journey maps are typically organised by customer stages and each stage should represent the customer’s journey, not the internal process steps of the practice. These stages might include arrival and include the journey from car park to reception, or the reception and check-in stage. For each stage, you need to map touchpoints. A touchpoint is a step in the journey where the customer interacts with the practice.

The third step involves examining how the customer feels and thinks during each interaction as well as what he/she will say, do, hear, etc. in any given situation. These are the emotional experiences of a customer at every stage of the journey. Walking through each stage with your team will help you identify any points of friction within the customer experience.

You may wish to involve real patients in the process as most people are happy to help if they believe you are genuinely interested in their experience and will use their feedback to improve things for others but ensure you help them explore what they expect the process to be like and what they think, feel, see, hear and do during each stage and at each touchpoint.

The fourth step is to understand whether there is a gap between the ‘lived’ experience of a customer and the ‘desired’ experience of the practice, and if so, to identify opportunities to improve the customer experience. The business benefit is obvious – fewer pain points results in a better customer experience and higher engagement with the practice.

Creating customer journeys does not have to be a time-consuming process but taking a ‘day in the life of a patient’ approach helps create a shared understanding of the customer experience and offers team members the opportunity to contribute to improving that experience.

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