November 23, 2017

Health Care Marketers: Why It’s Time to Map Your Patient’s Path

All of our clients feel increased pressure to drive new patient volume while strengthening existing patient relationships. These two goals often require different strategies and tactics.

One of the tools we use with our clients helps to achieve both goals of new patient acquisition and increased patient loyalty.

That tool is Patient Journey Path mapping.

Once you know your patient’s journey, you can positively impact the steps, decision-making, and experience of the patient. 

Modern marketing is all about precision-based messaging and delivery. The most powerful marketing is the most personalized and the most relevant. It’s marketing that doesn’t cause your audience to feel like they’re being “marketed” to. Instead, they feel that relevant message and solutions are reaching them at the right times and in the right ways.

And one of the ways to achieve that resonance with your audiences is through patient journey path mapping.

To leverage this powerful tool, you first need to know the steps. From there, you can identify how to help support and connect with your patient audience at each step of her journey.

Let’s look at the steps in order.

Step 1: The Trigger Event

Step 2: Planning

Step 3: Engagement

Step 4: Commitment

Step 5: Experience/Evaluation

Before we go deeper into each step, it’s important to note not every patient will move through Steps 2 and 3.  An easy example to consider is a patient’s path for Emergency Services. The trigger event (Step 1) might be slipping on a banana peel and breaking a bone. Your patient won’t plan or engage before purchasing ER services. She commits to going to the ER (either via ambulance or in her own vehicle), Step 4.

But for the purposes of helping you leverage this tool, let’s look at each step.

Healthcare Marketer’s Steps to Map Your Patients Path

Step 1: The Trigger Event

The Trigger Event prompts your prospective patient to begin considering health care services. For example: is joint pain too painful to manage with aspirin?

Or is the trigger event a physician telling your prospective patient that his obesity is causing Type 2 Diabetes and requires blood pressure medication? As a result, the patient begins seriously considering weight-loss surgery.

Every service your organization offers will have different trigger events. And within each service there may be multiple types of trigger events. Your work is to identify the top 3 triggers for each service.

Step 2: Planning

Remember this step, along with Step 3, is not applicable to every Patient Journey Path mapping. But for education purposes, let’s assume your patients conduct some level of planning for the services they might need, which your organization offers.

What kinds of planning might they do? For example, do they list the questions they’ll likely ask their family doctor at their next visit? Do your patients go on Facebook and ask friends to weigh in on health care solutions and providers? Do they spend hours online seeking insights on forums and chat groups?

Step 3: Engagement

Engagement is a sister step to planning in the sense that the level of planning your prospective patient does on her path is directly tied to the level of engagement she has with her health care needs and wants.

An easy way to think about this is that routine care is low on engagement while a possible cancer diagnosis is high on engagement.

The level of engagement informs your patient’s path.

Low engagement might only require a mobile-friendly phone number on your website for her to click to call for an appointment.

High engagement might require a deep well of content, which could be shared via email marketing automation over a period of weeks, months—even years. (This is most true of elective surgical services like joint replacement and weight loss surgery.)

Examples of patients beginning to engage might include attending a seminar to learn more about a particular procedure or consulting with a physician about next steps.

The level of engagement all depends on your patient and her path. As with the trigger event, identify the top 3 most likely engagement scenarios. Then create the strategies, materials and resources to meet her where she is on her patient journey.

Step 4: Commitment

What does it look like when your prospective patient makes the commitment to use your products or services?

Does commitment look like electing the procedure? Or entering the doctor’s office? Clicking Buy Now on your website? In the commitment phase of the patient journey path, you have two simultaneous opportunities. You make it easy for patients to access and buy your services while affirming the buying decision. Buyer’s remorse happens in health care just as it does when buying cars, microwave ovens and coats.

Step 5: Experience/Evaluation

After receiving care, patients will evaluate their experience. Did they receive superior clinical care? Did they receive excellent bedside manner?

And after evaluating their experience, they will share what they think. This might look like social media posts – on their personal pages or on the provider’s. It might also look like electing continued care. If a patient has an excellent experience with a joint replacement, they are more likely to select the same provider for rehab and PT services.

The evaluation portion of the path deserves a little clarification.

It’s not uncommon for mothers who have had children in the NICU to be surveyed twice post-discharge. The first survey occurs usually within the first few weeks of leaving the hospital with their newborns. The second survey may occur several months after discharge, when moms have had time to reflect on their hospital stay and often offer a more clarified perspective on their experience.

As you consider how the patient will evaluate the experience, consider how you, as marketers and change agents for health care, can help influence, impact and improve your patient’s experience.

How can you influence, impact and improve your patient’s experience with your brand?

If you’re at the provider level, how can you make your patient’s stay more comfortable?

If your organization provides medication, technology or other health care solutions delivered outside a hospital or outpatient setting, how can you elevate the experience with using your organization’s product or service?

Bringing It All Together

Here’s how to leverage the Patient Journey Path mapping tool.

The first thing is to review the five steps to any patient path:

Step 1: The Trigger Event

Step 2: Planning

Step 3: Engagement

Step 4: Commitment

Step 5: Experience/Evaluation

(Remember that not all patients follow steps 2 and 3—although many will.)

Next: Identify all the ways you can inform, influence and impact your patient’s experience at each step of their journey path.

This may look like:

  • Advertising medium selection
  • Messaging and images/video
  • Relevant and meaningful content
  • Resources to educate and empower your patients
  • Tailored messages that are helpful and of high value to your prospective patients as they engage in their health care decision-making
  • Helpful calls-to-action to learn more, book an appointment or purchase your product or services—with emphasis on making it easy to access your organization’s products and services
  • Making their experience with your organization and its products and services exceptional and surpassing expectations
  • Encouraging your patients to share positive experiences with others who may benefit from knowing about their experience

Our clients know their job doesn’t end when they attract a new patient into their organization. There are still many steps in the patient path to purchase that they can inform, influence and impact. But many of our clients don’t have the direct opportunity to impact the patient’s experience. You may be in a similar situation. Interestingly, that’s also why the Patient Journey Path mapping tool is so helpful. With the tool, you can encourage stakeholders who do have direct access to the patient experience to be part of making the entire patient journey path memorable for all the best reasons.

Modern marketing is about making the entire patient experience outstanding. We hope you’ll leverage the patient journey path map tool, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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