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The Fundamentals of Patient Journey Mapping

fundamentals partnering with patients patient experience Jun 25, 2024

Patient or customer journey mapping has gained significant traction in recent years due to the healthcare industry's shift towards a more human-centred care approach, emphasising the quality of patient experiences and outcomes. But what exactly is patient journey mapping, and should you use it in your practice? In this blog, we will explore the basics of this process and how it can help improve the experiences and outcomes for your patients.

What is patient journey mapping?

Patient journey mapping is a strategic tool used to understand and visually present the experiences, interactions, emotions, and pain points that patients or customers experience as they navigate the healthcare system. It helps organisations identify areas for improvement. This human-centred tool has been adapted from other industries, where it is now commonplace to map a customer's journey to help identify opportunities to improve and personalise the customer's experiences with an organisation's products or services. 

Patient journey mapping essentially involves creating a detailed, step-by-step representation of a patient’s journey from their initial identification of a need to seek help, through to their contact with a healthcare service, the conclusion of their treatment and beyond. It covers various stages such as:

  • Need: Recognising the need to seek medical advice or assistance.
  • Finding a service: Searching for and selecting a care provider or service.
  • Accessing a service: Making appointments and initial consultations
  • Receiving care or treatment: The actual medical or therapeutic intervention or service.
  • On-going or follow-up care: Post-treatment support and follow-up or appointments.

By mapping out these stages, health providers can highlight key touchpoints and interactions with healthcare providers, systems, and processes. The primary goal is to gain insights into the patient experience, identify pain points, and discover opportunities for improvement. Patient journey maps also enable healthcare teams to see the patient’s experience from their perspective, fostering empathy and a deeper understanding of their emotions, motivations and challenges.

Is a patient journey map the same as a care pathway?

While both patient journey maps and care pathways are tools used to improve patient outcomes and experiences, they differ significantly in their focus, purpose, and scope:

A patient journey map focuses on the patient's own care experience, highlighting their emotional, psychological and physical interactions with the entire care system. It aims to identify pain points and opportunities to improve the overall patient experience, from the patient's perspective.

A care pathway centres on the clinical steps required to treat a specific disease or condition, focusing on the internal processes and team required to support a patient at each treatment stage. It helps standardise care based on best practices to enhance clinical outcomes and efficiency.

In essence, the patient journey map is broad and patient-centric, encompassing all healthcare interactions, while the care pathway is specific and clinically focused, detailing the necessary medical interventions, steps and timelines for particular treatments.

Why is patient journey mapping important in health?

Patient journey mapping is crucial in health for several reasons:

  1. Improving the Patient Experience (PX): By understanding the patient’s journey, healthcare providers can identify moments of frustration or confusion and work to improve these experiences, leading to better health outcomes.

  2. Enhancing communication: A patient journey map reveals various points where communication occurs between patients, carers, family members and healthcare providers, helping to streamline communication and ensure clarity at each stage.

  3. Identifying friction points in care: The process can uncover gaps, delays or friction points that might not be immediately obvious, allowing health organisations to address inefficiencies and ensure a more seamless and coordinated care experience.

  4. Personalising care: With a detailed understanding of the patient journey for specific groups, healthcare providers can design more personalised care approaches, catering to individual patient needs and preferences.

  5. Supporting decision-making: Data from patient journey maps can inform strategic decisions, helping allocate resources effectively and co-design interventions aligned with patient needs.

  6. Driving Innovation: Insights from patient journey mapping can identify clear opportunities to improve and spark innovation in service delivery, leading to new tools, technologies and processes that enhance the overall healthcare experience.


What does a patient journey map include?

While patient journey mapping isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, in health a modern journey map typically captures both 'front of house' and 'back of house' elements, represented as separate rows or 'swim lanes':

  • Front of House Elements: These are parts of the journey that patients directly interact with or are impacted by, including:
    • Goals: The outcomes that matter to the patient at each stage
    • Actions: The activities the patient is doing at each stage
    • Emotional status: The emotions the patient is experiencing, helping healthcare professionals understand how to better support a patient's emotional journey
  • Back of House Elements: These refer to the behind-the-scenes processes and systems that support the patient journey, such as:
    • Touchpoints: The different people, systems and processes the patient is interacts with
    • Friction or pain points: Challenges, frustrations or friction points the patient faces
    • Opportunities: Potential solutions to improve the patient experience
    • Success metrics: How to track success for patients, through measures like Patient-Reported Measures (PRMs), loyalty or patient satisfaction scores.

Incorporating both front and back of house elements is essential to a holistic service design approach, ensuring all aspects of the patient's journey are considered.

 

An example patient journey map template.



How do I get started with patient journey mapping?

To create a simple patient journey map, follow these key steps:

  1. Define your patient segment: Choose a group of patients with similar conditions, needs, demographics, behaviours, or goals. This will help you identify opportunities to improve and personalise the patient experience
  2. Define your journey stages: Consider the patient's journey from the first symptom or identification of a need for care to the end of their treatment. Break these touchpoints into major stages such as Need, Consideration, Decision, Access, Service, Follow-up or Ongoing Care, and Transition or Discharge.  
  3. Engage with your stakeholders: To gather insights, involve patients and carers from your patient segment in interviews, focus groups, surveys, or workshops. Also, gather input from frontline staff, healthcare professionals, and management. 
  4. Complete the 'front of house' elements: Use patient engagement activities to understand the patient's experiences and complete these elements in the journey map.
  5. Complete the 'back of house' elements. Use insights from stakeholders to fill in sections related to behind-the-scenes processes that impact the patient experience.

 

How do I use my patient journey map?

Once you have built your patient journey map, identify and prioritise key pain points and develop targeted action plans to address them. Implement changes, monitor and evaluate progress, and iterate based on feedback and data. Educate staff and patients on the map's importance, leverage digital tools for maintenance and communication, and celebrate successes to motivate ongoing improvements. Regularly review and update the map with patient involvement, ensuring improvements align with broader organisational goals and strategies.

Your journey map is a powerful visual tool. Share and communicate your journey map with stakeholders and patients to help them understand the experiences and potential improvement in their care journey.

By understanding and applying the fundamentals of patient journey mapping, healthcare providers can significantly enhance the patient experience, leading to better outcomes for all.

 

Further Learning:

To explore patient journey mapping and patient experience (PX) strategies more deeply, consider our Developing Your PX Strategy program. This program provides training on segmenting patients and building and using patient journey maps as part of a wider PX improvement strategy in your practice. Click to learn more.

Further Reading:

For more insights, check out related blogs:

Blog: How to gather patient feedback and insights from patient focus groups.

Blog: The Fundamentals of Lived Experience.

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