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Customer Journey Research: Improving the Patient Experience From Initial Diagnosis to Treatment of Chronic Conditions

The patient experience has long been an important component of healthcare, but a paradigm shift has been taking place as of late — one in which consumers are expecting their patient experience to mirror that of retail, where every experience is seamless, convenient, and personalized to their specific needs.

In order to create these types of interactions, healthcare organizations need information. As such, nothing improves the patient experience more than customer journey research. It’s an effective approach to understanding the interactions that patients encounter within their healthcare experience. It’s also effective in identifying potential friction points along the path that may impact patient satisfaction — if not impede their progress to getting treatment at all — and, in turn, can have a positive effect on patient outcomes.

However, the patient experience is ever-evolving and varies from one person to the next. If healthcare organizations hope to close any gaps and continue to improve upon the experience, it’s important for leadership teams to expand their research techniques and regularly measure their efforts in meeting patients’ needs. One emerging approach is that many providers are now applying patient archetypes to the patient journey. Such an approach can help to encapsulate shared motivations, needs, fears, and care preferences within patient communities. Though not an entirely individualized view, it still allows for more personalized care and services.

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For example, recent research by RAPP reveals six key patient archetypes, one of which is the “Defeated Traditionalist.” This patient group struggles with managing their health and often perceives it as a burden. For marketers who want to increase patient adherence to new medical protocols in the treatment of a chronic condition like diabetes, they would first want to understand the patient’s struggles, points of frustration, and barriers to progress. Only then can they truly create messaging to improve not only awareness but receptivity to a new drug that could better fit a patient’s needs and lifestyle. It also ensures that they’re able to reach this patient group at the various touchpoints that really matter along the patient journey and minimize any obstacles to receiving care.

Utilizing Patient Journey Research to Improve Experience

Understanding the patient journey and acting upon any findings are, of course, two separate things. It can be a challenge for healthcare organizations to put the information into action. But there are a few key moments in the patient journey that are critical to improving engagement, often falling into one of three categories: pre-visit, visit, and post-visit — in particular, researching symptoms, discussing treatment options with doctors, and actively managing conditions.

Intervening during these times can better inform patients of their condition and engage them in their treatment plans, which could lead to better treatment decisions and better health outcomes. The question then remains, where within these touchpoints should healthcare organizations focus their attention? Research shows the following are often the best options:

1. Literacy.

While access to information certainly isn’t a problem, patients are often challenged in finding the right information about their conditions. According to RAPP’s “The Modern Patient Journey: 2021 Healthcare CXM Study for Chronic Condition Diagnosis and Treatment,” nearly 1 out of 3 patients wait more than a month to seek medical intervention due to their own personal research concerning symptoms. They’re either overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information or lack the literacy to make sense of what they’re reading. They may also rely on family and friends as a point of diagnosis.

Regardless of the situation, it can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment. According to a 2020 UnitedHealth study, nearly 1 million hospital visits each year could be prevented by increased medical literacy. From adding visual aids in different languages to offering medical literacy training to professionals, plenty of opportunities exist to address the disease awareness and detection gap and assist patients to be more proactive about treating their conditions.

2. Personalization.

Personalization is nothing new in healthcare. Treatment plans are often based on an individual’s specific needs — but that is typically limited to their medical/physical condition. According to RAPP, the vast majority (81%) of patients would prefer a treatment plan that fits more broadly into their lifestyle. Rather than employing a singular, conventional approach to treatment, providers should consider more nuanced and robust patient profiles when it comes to care delivery. Such an approach is more personalized but can account for the associated motivations and care preferences of the individual. This can lead to increased patient satisfaction, greater engagement and adherence, and help patients live healthier lives.

3. Habitual change.

Changing behaviors is no small feat, so it only stands to reason why patients with chronic conditions struggle to adopt and maintain the lifestyle habits necessary to improve their treatment outcomes — and the number is more than many providers think. RAPP research finds that 55% of chronic patients find making such changes a challenge. With the number of digital tools and health apps rising, this presents another opportunity for brands and providers to build utilities surrounding their products/services to better support patients and improve patient health outcomes.

Encouraging patients to actively participate in their health can have a profound impact on their lives. Organizations that strictly speak to “managing an illness” will miss opportunities to provide greater overall experiences and satisfaction that can come with a multifaceted approach. Understanding the customer journey and quantifying the moments that matter the most can improve the patient experience in more ways than one.

Jocelyn Ochinang is a Director of Consumer & Market Intelligence at RAPP, a global precision marketing agency, and has over 15 years of experience in healthcare and market research.

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