Why Marketers Should Take a Closer Look at the Patient Journey

When a person falls ill or needs medical attention, he or she goes to visit a doctor. Right? 

Most of the time. But the reality is that, in today’s world, not all consumers prioritize healthcare. Other demands come first: jobs, children, aging parents and grandparents, mortgages, loans, the cost of putting food on the table. Plus, “Doctor Google” opens up a world of home remedies and not-so-accurate diagnostic tools, prompting many to try to take matters into their own hands. 

A study conducted in 2018 found that 44 percent of Americans don’t regularly visit their primary care physician for financial reasons. A different study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly one in four women (23 percent) have delayed or put off a doctor’s appointment simply because they could not find the time. 

Health systems can’t control every factor influencing this new wave of consumer behavior. What they can influence, however, are the experiences they create for patients – from the very first touchpoint. This is why nimble healthcare marketing teams pay close attention to patient journey maps

Why are Patient Journey Maps Important?

Patient journey mapping is an indispensable tool for healthcare professionals across departments, but particularly for marketers. After all, patients more frequently “interact” with their healthcare provider or network outside of their actual treatment, procedure, or clinical consultation. The majority of their touchpoints are marketing-driven communications: the website or Facebook page they scan, the digital contact form they fill out, the scheduling call they receive, all the way through to appointment reminder emails, mailed invitations to seminars, and post-discharge instructions for at-home care. 

Patient journey maps allow healthcare marketers to identify the gaps in the patient experience and break out the magnifying glass, revealing why they occur and how they can be resolved. The ultimate goal? Encouraging and enabling patients to become active participants in their own care, engaged with the health system not only when sick, but thinking of their providers as partners in their ongoing health and wellness.  

To prevent today’s busy and distracted patients from dropping out of the care “funnel,” healthcare marketers must do more than superficially glance at journey maps: Instead, they need to drill down into the demographic and clinical data to identify the most common types of patient journeys within, perhaps, a particular service line or geography. This goes beyond your hospital’s four walls: Many patients begin their treatment process with an out-of-network provider, so it’s just as important to understand how, where, and why they arrived at your organization.

Being able to precisely analyze data preceding, during, and following the patient journey is absolutely critical for success in today’s unsteady consumer landscape. Marketers need to take ownership over the patient experience, not just the delivery of campaigns. Patching the holes that often appear before and following a clinical procedure – and developing trusting, long-term relationships with patients –go a long way in terms of revenue, margins, and patient retention

Understanding the Patient Journey Quantitatively

When healthcare professionals sit down to discuss the patient journey, it most often happens qualitatively.  Marketers, operations, and clinicians attend a journey mapping session focused on the bariatric service line, for instance. The conversation centers on the handoffs that take place during the journey: Handoffs from the marketing to the contact center, then to the clinician, to operations, and back to marketing. While these conversations reveal opportunities for improvement, they’re based a lot on assumptions or perceptions. 

To take journey mapping to the next level, health systems must integrate real patient and clinical datasets into their journey mapping sessions – before they even begin the process. For instance: You might assume that the bariatric service line, known to be more consumer-driven, should be your first priority for journey mapping.

What you might not realize is that the majority of patient leakage is happening in orthopedics, when patients drop out of the process at a specific point, or tend to go out-of-network at specific points. Data, along with the right technology, will bring this to attention.

doctor (obstetrician, gynecologist or psychiatrist) consulting and diagnostic examining female patient's on woman’s obstetric - gynecological health in medical clinic or hospital healthcare service centerUnfortunately, most health systems still lack the technology to bridge the gaps between what’s actually happening after their marketing campaigns and the success of the campaigns themselves (meaning all the way down the funnel, past the initial lead generation and conversion).

In other words, they don’t have any means with which to identify their best opportunities for improvement. This is in part because their data exists in silos: There’s the “patient stuff,” meaning the clinical and claims data, and there’s the “consumer stuff,” meaning the marketing data. 

From the patient’s perspective, these two silos don’t exist – their encounters and interactions, from initial phone call to eventual discharge, happen along the same continuum. Technology that eliminates the silos enables healthcare professionals to operate on that continuum, where marketers, operations, and clinicians truly understand how each others’ efforts interact. It also allows healthcare marketers, in particular, to extend their sphere of influence beyond top-of-funnel communications and potentially improve the clinical portion of the experience, as well. 

Investing in the Right Technology

Many health systems employ an HCRM that, in combination with data from the EHR, serves as a centralized platform through which consumer and patient information and interactions are tracked and measured. The HCRM is just the foundation, though.

To facilitate an experience that keeps patients actively engaged with the health system for a lifetime, marketing departments should consider investing in technology that takes this existing patient and consumer data and synthesizes it with clinical information, market claims data, and referral patterns – providing a holistic picture of the end-to-end patient journey. 

Evariant Insights offers patient journey intelligence that does exactly this. Where marketers relying solely on the HCRM can see, for instance, that a large percentage of patients don’t follow up after a knee replacement surgery to schedule rehabilitation, they won’t have access to further information to improve the journey or close those common gaps.

Do patients simply not have enough time or believe the PT unnecessary? Did they go to a different health system closer to home? Patient journey insights technology solves for these questions, among many others.

Here’s an example: It may reveal that among patients who receive a knee replacement at your health system, only 62 percent undergo physical therapy in-network. From there, marketers can drill down into source claim information to see what happened to the other percentage of patients, which health system they chose for the physical therapy, and even figure out why they left.  

Patient journey insights not only help healthcare marketers uncover opportunities to prevent patient leakage by creating automated, multi-channel nurtures – it makes it easier to prioritize areas of improvement in high-value service lines or within a specific demographic. Armed with such specific information, marketers craft communications that reach consumers and patients at the right time with the right message, keeping them engaged in their care. And as well all know, it’s this level of personalization and timeliness that’s critical to success in today’s market. 

Final Thoughts

The next decade is sure to bring plenty of change in consumer markets. The distinguishing factor between the businesses that will continue to grow and succeed, and those that will not, comes down to customer experience. By now, health systems should understand that they’re not exempt – and one that goes beyond in-person interactions with physicians or administrative staff.  

Patient journey maps are an excellent tool with which healthcare marketers identify moments when the handoffs from one touchpoint to the next are lacking. However, in order to successfully plug these gaps in the patient experience, journey mapping needs to be more than qualitative: Data and analytics must be integrated, creating a clear course of action and delineating the steps necessary to deploy a successful, ongoing nurturing campaign. 

If your health system has yet to invest in the technology to enable agile, timely, and personalized campaigns, now is the time. Today’s consumers won’t tolerate a healthcare experience full of roadblocks and dead ends: Unlock data-driven insights so you can own the patient journey throughout its entire lifecycle. 

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Rachel Neely

Rachel Neely

VP of Customer Success at Evariant
Rachel Neely is the VP of Customer Success at Evariant. In this role, she serves as a healthcare marketing expert, guiding clients through collaborative workshops, identifying and reconciling points of ROI, overseeing the usability of Evariant products and solutions to ensure they meet client-specific needs, and collaborating with Physician, Engagement, and Marketing Practice Leaders to build new assets, frameworks, and points of view. Rachel holds a BA in Communication from Purdue University with specializations in Advertising and PR.
Rachel Neely