The term “Patient Journey Mapping” often feels like the phrase “Gluten-free”; it is trendy, talked about in different circles, is supposedly beneficial for us and yet is often ambiguous to define.

Here’s how I’ve come to appreciate the power of Patient Journey Mapping: for its ability to understand and affect a person’s experience as a patient.

As health care marketers, communicators and strategists, patient journey mapping is an essential tool that allows us to be better: better at delivering care, better at understanding the patient’s wants and needs, and better in aligning teams and departments to create an outstanding experience for patients.

The throughline in a patient journey is the communication of information, which may begin with a trigger event (like a sore throat) through the patient’s evaluation of care (in a post-discharge survey or to friends on Facebook).

When there is a breakdown in communication, patients can feel vulnerable, lost and afraid. Marketers and communicators can and should contribute to patient experience. Quite often, marketers are less able to change what happens in the exam room. But there are infinite ways for marketers to support and enhance the overall patient experience, and journey mapping is a key strategy. There are multiple patient journey models. A basic and helpful way of thinking about patient journey mapping is to look at five distinct stages of the journey:


  1. Trigger event: what happens to begin the patient journey? A diagnosis? An injury? Genetic testing results?
  2. Consideration: the beginning exploration of treatment
  3. Intent: the final research and reflection of where and how to seek treatment, which often includes scheduling an appointment with a provider
  4. Experience: the literal experience the patient has with your organization
  5. Evaluation: the time after the experience that the patient reflects and determines his or her overall evaluation of the experience, which is often shared online and privately

With this framework in place, let’s review five strategies that marketers and planners can use to leverage patient journey mapping to improve patient experience.

1. For the Trigger Event Phase: Treat your organization’s website like the North Star

Your website should be truly patient-centric and provide clear, strategic calls-to-action to tap into the patient mindset. This helps your prospective patients to be just a click away from what they seek. The prospective patient’s experience on your website will likely drive the critical first impression and begin a positive or negative patient experience.

2. For the Consideration Phase: Ensure your calls-to-action are a seamless experience

Whether it be online scheduling or a phone call appointment, your patient audiences should feel ease of access. Long hold times and arduous steps to see a provider create friction for your patient audiences. Strive to innovate the ease of access.

3. For the Intent and Experience Phases: Communicate what happens next

Scenario: a patient is coming in for what she thinks is a routine mammogram. However, during the process, the clinical team notices a lump in the breast and further diagnostic testing and consultation is required. Will your patient have deep clarity what will happen next? The antidote for fear is knowledge: by communicating the next step, and the step after that. It is essential that your institution has a clear communications protocol to guide the patient through whatever scenario may come next, making them feel well-cared for and delivering the utmost patient experience.

4. For the Experience Phase: Support the truth that every patient is unique

In our experience, most service line marketing campaigns are heavy on promotion but light on resources to help people once they make the decision to be patients. Patient journey mapping at the Experience stage encourages marketers, planners and clinical colleagues to innovate how to communicate and provide supportive resources to patients. It is our duty as marketers to ensure that content and resources guide patients to the best possible health outcomes for their own unique condition.

5. For the Evaluation Phase: Encourage Advocacy

More than ever, patients have immediate tools to share their thoughts and feelings about brands, including your organization. What’s your strategy for encouraging advocacy for your organization? And, perhaps an even better question: how can you best apply constructive feedback to improve future patient experiences?

We also have an important opportunity to encourage advocacy while supporting the long-term health and wellness of our patients—for example, sharing ongoing resources with former patients to help them stay well or live as best they can with their condition.  This strategy allows organizations to reinforce their commitment to patients and their health.

Patient journey mapping is overarching and is immensely beneficial, both operationally and clinically. Often, patients don’t know how to evaluate providers and care options. By sharing information upfront and applying a clear guidebook to impact the total health care experience, marketers can develop a pathway for continued patient engagement, advocacy, health and improved service delivery.

Are you leveraging patient journey mapping? How is it working? Let’s discuss in the comments section below!