Growth

How to Create and Use a Patient Journey Map

Learn how to implement patient journey mapping and deliver a more patient-centered, efficient, and personalized care.
January 15, 2024
6 min

The patient journey is a term that captures the full spectrum of a patient's experience in healthcare, starting from their first symptoms to the follow-up care. It's a concept that helps healthcare providers see their services from the patient's perspective. 

Mapping out each step of the patient's experience helps healthcare organizations identify specific areas for improving their services and processes. 

In this article, we're going to take a close look at how to implement patient journey mapping at your clinic or hospital. 

What is Patient Journey Mapping?

A patient journey map is a visual tool that outlines a patient's journey, marking all interactions and touchpoints a patient has with their healthcare provider. 

The purpose of patient journey mapping is to provide healthcare professionals with a clear view of the patient's experience. It highlights areas where care can be more patient-centered, efficient, and responsive to individual needs.

For clinics, patient journey mapping offers a range of benefits — it sheds light on how patients navigate through their healthcare experience, revealing opportunities to streamline processes and enhance care quality. Clinics that implement journey mapping often see increased patient satisfaction, improved healthcare outcomes, and more efficient use of resources. 

Seeing healthcare through the patient’s eyes is transformative. It shifts the focus from a purely clinical perspective to a more holistic view, considering the emotional and psychological aspects of patient care. 

The key stages in the patient journey

Understanding the different stages of the patient journey is essential for providing comprehensive care. Here's a breakdown of these stages:

  • Awareness: This initial stage is where the patient first recognizes symptoms or health concerns. Effective communication and educational resources are key as they ease anxiety and guide patients towards seeking proper medical advice.
  • Diagnosis: In this phase, healthcare professionals determine the patient's condition. Clear, empathetic communication and accurate information are vital to help patients understand their situation and the proposed treatment plans.
  • Treatment: This stage involves the actual medical interventions or therapies. Patients should be fully informed about their treatment options and what to expect, ensuring their active participation and compliance.
  • Follow-Up: Post-treatment, this stage is for monitoring the patient's progress and recovery. Consistent follow-up appointments and open lines of communication are essential to address any concerns or complications that may arise.
  • Ongoing care: Especially relevant for chronic conditions, this stage focuses on long-term health management. Continuous support, education, and encouragement are key to helping patients manage their health effectively over time.

Understanding patient emotions, experiences, and expectations at each stage of the journey leads to more compassionate, patient-centered care and better health outcomes.

Below is an example of a patient journey map provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA patient journey map.
VA patient experience journey map. Source: VA.gov

Here is an excerpt from the document to give additional context:

The VA Patient Experience Journey Map represents a common set of moments Veterans experience before, during, and after a health care appointment visit. While this map does not represent what happens to every Veteran during every appointment, it is a good starting point to define the ideal patient experience at VA and recognize high impact improvement opportunities.

How to create a patient journey map

Creating a patient journey map involves visually charting the patient's experience through healthcare services, providing a clear and actionable guide to provide better care and improve patient satisfaction.

Step 1: Defining objectives and scope

The first step in creating a patient journey map is to establish its goals. These objectives could range from streamlining care processes to identifying quality gaps in the follow-up care. Clear goals guide the mapping process, ensuring that the end result is focused and actionable.

Next, it's important to decide the scope of the journey map — some maps cover the entire patient journey, while others focus on specific aspects, such as finding the ways to improve the diagnosis or treatment phase. 

The choice will depend on the clinic's goals and the specific areas they aim to improve.

Step 2: Understanding the patient's perspective

To truly understand the patient's perspective, you have to engage with them directly. Conducting patient interviews and surveys provides valuable insights into their experiences, feelings, and expectations — firsthand information is instrumental in creating a journey map.

Another key component is to review patient complaints. This data often highlights areas that need improvement and can reveal common challenges that patients face. 

It's important to include a diverse range of patient profiles in this process — different patients have unique experiences based on their age, background, medical conditions, and other factors. A comprehensive journey map should reflect this diversity to ensure that the care provided is inclusive and considers the needs of different patient groups.

Step 3: Gathering and analyzing data

Gathering data includes collecting information from electronic health records (EHRs), patient feedback, and staff interviews. Each source offers unique insights, from the clinical data in EHRs to the operational insights provided by your staff.

Once data is collected, the next step is to analyze it to identify common patterns, pain points, and areas for improvement. This analysis identifies the bottlenecks in the patient journey and the factors that affect patient satisfaction.

Finally, it's important to understand the emotional journey of patients: this involves analyzing how patients feel at each stage of their healthcare experience, from anxiety or confusion in the early stages to relief or frustration in the later stages. 

As mentioned earlier, recognizing these emotional aspects will be key to providing compassionate, patient-centered care.

Step 4: Identifying key stages and touchpoints

The fourth step involves mapping out the primary stages of the patient journey. The idea is to lay out a clear framework that captures each significant phase in the patient's healthcare journey.

A big part of this process is identifying key touchpoints — situations where patients directly interact with healthcare services. Common touchpoints include:

  • scheduling appointments
  • having consultations
  • receiving treatments
  • getting post-treatment visits
  • numerous small interactions with healthcare staff 

Understanding these touchpoints helps in pinpointing areas where patient experience can be enhanced, whether it's through improved communication, reduced waiting times, or more compassionate care.

Step 5: Building patient personas

Building patient personas involves creating detailed profiles that represent various user groups within the patient population. These personas should include demographic information, health conditions, preferences, and behaviors. 

Here’s an example of a patient persona:

  • Name: Maria Gonzalez
  • Age: 42
  • Health Conditions: Recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes
  • Family History: Family history of diabetes and heart disease
  • Lifestyle: Busy professional, struggles with balancing work and personal life, limited time for exercise
  • Healthcare Preferences: Prefers clear, straightforward communication; appreciates digital health tools for monitoring and convenience
  • Behavioral Characteristics: Highly engaged in her health but often feels overwhelmed with information; values trust and empathy in her healthcare providers
  • Goals: To manage her diabetes effectively without disrupting her busy lifestyle, and to learn more about preventive health measures

Empathy mapping and surveys that measure patient activation levels can be a great way to gather the necessary information and build personas that effectively represent different patient groups. 

This deeper understanding helps you tailor healthcare services that meet the specific emotional and practical needs of each persona, like Maria, who needs clear communication and digital health tools for her busy lifestyle.

Step 6: Visualizing the patient journey map

Since a patient journey map is a document that will need to be easily accessible, shareable, and periodically updated, it should be created in a digital form. 

Here are some tips for creating patient journey maps that are clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand:

  • Add visual aids: Employ visual aids such as icons, color coding, and symbols to differentiate and highlight key stages, touchpoints, and emotions. This enhances clarity and quick comprehension.
  • Use simple language: Avoid medical jargon and complex terminology. Use simple, straightforward language that can be easily understood by everyone involved, including non-medical staff.
  • Incorporate flowcharts or diagrams: Utilize flowcharts, diagrams, or storyboards to visually represent the journey stages. These tools help in mapping out the patient experience in a logical and easily digestible format.
  • Focus on patient perspective: Ensure the map is reflective of the patient's perspective. Include elements that represent patient experiences and emotions at each touchpoint.
  • Periodically review and update the document: Keep the map updated to reflect any changes in healthcare processes, practices, or patient feedback.

This will ensure that the patient journey map is not only informative but also easy to understand and actionable.

Step 7: Highlight pain points and opportunities

This step focuses on identifying and highlighting areas that cause friction and dissatisfaction. These could be long wait times, unclear communication, or inadequate follow-up care. 

Marking these pain points on the map makes it easier to prioritize them for action. 

This is also a great opportunity to throw in ideas for improvement and innovation — adopting new technologies, improving patient communication strategies, or streamlining appointment scheduling processes.

Step 8: Develop actionable insights

The final step involves translating the observations from the journey map into actionable strategies. This means taking the identified pain points and opportunities and developing concrete plans for implementing changes. 

This could involve training staff, implementing new technologies, or revising operational procedures. Usually, clinics will prioritize actions based on their potential impact and ease/difficulty of implementation. 

In other words, as all changes can’t be implemented at once, it's important to focus on those that will make the most significant difference in patient experience and are achievable with available resources.

Implementing changes to improve patient experience

Implementing changes identified through patient journey mapping requires effective collaboration throughout the whole organization. 

Involving all stakeholders in the process — from clinicians to patients to administrative staff — is the only way to ensure a holistic and cohesive approach. Establishing a clear timeline and process for making these improvements keeps the team focused and on track.

To track how implemented changes impact patient experience and satisfaction, clinics should work towards implementing an efficient feedback collection system. Patient experience platforms like InsiderCX can help you automate this process and ensure every complaint, praise, and suggestion reaches you in real time.

InsiderCX Editorial Team
This article was researched, written, polished, and published by the InsiderCX editorial team.

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