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Understanding the patient journey

10 min read
In the digital age, the patient experience has become more complex but also more critical as it relates to patient retention, reimbursement, and patient satisfaction. In order to thrive in today’s healthcare landscape, it’s important to look at the patient journey when aiming to improve the patient experience.

Does your healthcare organisation ask patients for feedback following clinical encounters? This is a common approach used to improve the patient experience. You may gather key insights about a specific encounter, but you’ll miss out on an untapped system of important patient interactions throughout the care journey.

Improving patient experiences requires looking at the entire healthcare ecosystem. Patients communicate with their healthcare providers through a variety of channels, while interacting with a wide range of departments and individuals along the way.

To stand out in the market and provide an optimal experience for your patients, hospitals and health systems should look beyond clinical service delivery and begin patient journey mapping.

The patient journey is the entire sequence of events that begins when the patient first develops a need for clinical care and engages with your organisation. It follows the patient’s steps as they navigate your healthcare system, from initial scheduling to treatment to continuous care.

The patient journey vs. the patient experience

Why is the patient journey important? Each touchpoint of the patient engagement journey, from a simple visit to your website to checking in for an appointment, has downstream effects that can help or hinder meeting patient needs.

As the patient experience evolves, it’s important to expand how you are listening to your patients in order to close gaps and make continuous improvements.

In recent years, emphasis on the patient experience has become the focus of regulatory programs and payment incentives. Many quality measures today centre around collecting patient feedback on the healthcare experience.

To satisfy these measures and drive quality improvement efforts, many organisations turn to post-transactional patient satisfaction surveys. The feedback from these surveys often measures only a limited set of touchpoints while overlooking other critical data from the full patient journey.

A holistic view

Patient experience programs often hone in on clinical service delivery, and many regulatory programs focus solely on numerical scores to measure improvement. These approaches may fail to identify pain points occurring in dozens of patient interactions within a healthcare system.

A holistic view of the patient journey is the key to modernising and strengthening your efforts to meet your patients’ needs. By breaking down silos into separate patient events, you can begin to identify blind spots where hidden challenges exist in your patient experiences.

By the time your patients engage with their care providers, they’ve likely interacted with your organisation a number of times. These interactions can occur digitally, over the phone, or in person. Navigating your website, verifying insurance coverage, and scheduling an appointment are all examples of pain points that may be creating barriers to care.

It’s easy to assume any given touchpoint is more or less important than another. The fact is that each one provides unique value to the patient’s experience. Each of them plays a role in helping the patient achieve their goals.

Patient engagement with your organisation doesn’t begin when the patient is examined by the healthcare provider, or even when they enter your medical facility. From initial awareness to ongoing care, the patient journey encompasses every separate interaction throughout the process of seeking, receiving, and continuing care within a health system.

There are several stages of the patient journey you should consider.


What triggers the patient’s need for care, and how does the patient learn about your organisation?

  • Quality ratings and online reputation
  • Campaign management
  • Community involvement
  • Networking


What drives a patient to choose your organisation over another?

  • Referrals
  • Coverage and benefits
  • Healthcare provider search


What impacts your patient’s ability to receive care or support from your organisation?

  • Scheduling
  • Patient portal
  • Call centre
  • Outreach
  • Price transparency

Service delivery

What is your patient’s experience with their clinical care?

  • Interaction with healthcare professionals
  • Check-in and check-out
  • Discharge process
  • Billing

Ongoing care

What type of patient engagement occurs after a visit?

  • Wellness and care management
  • Social determinants of health
  • Population health

All of these examples influence the way in which your patients make decisions. It’s essential to understand which touchpoints along the patient’s journey are the most impactful or leave the largest gaps in care. There are patient expectations surrounding each type of interaction.

Patient journey mapping

How do you move beyond patient feedback on service delivery and focus instead on the end-to-end patient journey? Patient journey mapping can provide context around what your patients experience as they move through the various channels of your organisation.

A patient journey map is a visual representation of the steps the patient takes as they engage with your organisation in order to receive care. Patient journey maps should capture pre-visit and post-visit touchpoints in addition to those that occur when the patient is onsite at your medical facility.

Your patient journey may be broad and applicable to your entire patient base, or it may be specific to certain specialties, patient personas, demographics, or health events.

Start with an inventory of all the touchpoints for which you currently collect patient feedback. Next, determine what’s missing. Envision moving through your organisation from your patient’s point of view. Your patient journey map should include Interactions that take place pre-visit and post-visit, which are not always captured by traditional or regulatory surveys.

Benefits of patient journey mapping

There are many benefits to capturing key moments along the whole patient journey.

  • A patient journey map allows you to walk in your patient’s shoes and think the way they think as they engage with your organisation. Patient journey mapping looks at patient experiences from the outside in.
  • Mapping your patient journeys helps you to hone in on the areas where you may not be listening to your patients, but should be.
  • You can uncover inconsistencies, gaps in care, and common pain points with patient journey mapping. These are difficult to identify when you collect feedback only on service delivery. Collecting data around these areas can aid in process optimisation and improve patient satisfaction.
  • A patient journey map can give you a cross-functional view of your patient experience so you can engage all teams and stakeholders in gathering and understanding patient insights.
  • Patient journey mapping provides context around behaviour and attitudes as patients move throughout the channels of your organisation. Are patients having to repeat paperwork? Do patients understand their follow-up care instructions? Are your patients able to easily navigate your patient portal? Patient journey mapping can help to answer these types of questions.
  • Mapping the patient journey can transform your patient care approach from a reactive one to a proactive one.

Using patient journey data

Once you can visualise the end-to-end patient journey within your organisation, it’s time to listen to your patients and start gathering data.

Gather the right data

Collect data on all the touchpoints of the patient journey.  Understand how your patients are interacting with every aspect of your organisation, including non-clinical interactions such as your website, scheduling, and billing. Involve multiple stakeholders during this process, including managers, doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals, and administrative staff.

It’s important to capture all steps involved in each of these stages. For example, when looking for potential pain points surrounding the patient portal, consider how the patient sets up an account, logs in, navigates the interface, gets technical assistance, and so forth.

Also, consider patient expectations and usage–what are they using the portal to accomplish? Look for potential gaps in these experiences, such as paying a bill, contacting the provider with a question, reviewing test results, or scheduling an appointment.

Understanding the patient’s goals and actions along all the different paths of your patient journeys is essential to gathering the data you need to take action.

Understand the data

Gain insights using analytics, benchmarking, and visualisations to identify gaps and discover opportunities at each step of the patient’s journey. Trends along the various touchpoints can help you to discover pain points and identify opportunities.

It’s also important to engage all the right stakeholders when reviewing the data you collect. Involving the right teams and people is essential to understanding gaps and improving experiences.

Take action

Use the insights from all touchpoints along your patient journey to develop solutions to improve your patient experience.

A closed-loop system is ideal for taking action to close gaps along the patient journey. For example, if a patient gives a low score on a survey for your online scheduling tool, you could follow up with the patient to ensure they were able to schedule an appointment.

Using the data you collect to drive specific actions and feed into processes is vital to creating a seamless patient journey.

Why Qualtrics?

At Qualtrics, we want to enable you to listen to and understand your patients across all aspects of their journey, all within a single platform. Omnichannel distribution lets you gather feedback from patients from where they are at during each touchpoint, with powerful built-in analytics for uncovering meaningful insights.

The Qualtrics XM Platform™ provides a single source for all of your patient journey data. Real-time feedback displayed in role- and location-based dashboards helps deliver pertinent information to the right people, allowing you to take prompt action where needed.

Ready to collect data and drive action along your patient journey?