A patient’s interaction with a healthcare practice begins before they schedule their first appointment and continues long after they exit the exam room. In fact, a patient’s journey is comprised of several phases, and each of these phases informs their decision to become an advocate or a detractor.
Understanding the patient journey and how you can take advantage of opportunities to connect with patients at all of the phases should be the cornerstone of your healthcare marketing program. In this blog post, we illustrate the concept of phases and show you how to improve your patient’s journey at every step of the way.
5 phases of the patient journey
We’ll be using a fictional patient Thelma to help you understand how you can use specific marketing techniques to engage patients throughout their process of evaluating and, ultimately, selecting a doctor. Let’s examine how Thelma interacts with your practice at various phases along her patient journey.
During a routine physical exam, Thelma’s primary care physician notices an enlarged area on her thyroid and tells her she must see an endocrinologist. This is called the “awareness” phase. Once Thelma leaves the office, she will try to learn as much as possible about her condition by Googling phrases like “thyroid nodule,” “thyroid cancer,” and “enlarged thyroid.”
Action steps to consider: If you are an endocrinologist, can new patients find your website using search engines like Google? Have you invested in SEO (search engine optimization) resources to optimize your site for appropriate keywords and search terms? Do you have other informative or educational content on your site to attract and engage online visitors?
Read: How the Internet Changed the Way Patients Find a Physician
Thelma, now in the “discovery” phase, does a few different things. First, she will confide in friends and relatives to try to find a trusted referral to an endocrinologist. She will look online for area specialists, checking out rating sites and visiting prospective physicians’ websites.
Action steps to consider: Do you review your ratings regularly to find areas that you can improve? Is your website informative and up-to-date so new patients can feel confident in your ability to help them? Does your website and other online listings clearly explainyour qualifications? Can new patients call the office and speak to a person without long hold times?
Thelma has delved through the information she has found and makes an appointment with an area endocrinologist. Two weeks later, she comes in for her initial consultation. She’s now in the “consumption” phase. Every connection with your practice during this phase — and there are a lot of them — now becomes a touch point where you can delight or disappoint your patient.
Action steps to consider: Do you have a reminder system in place so patients don’t miss their appointments? Is the contact information on your website accurate? Is your practice welcoming with convenient parking, nice decor, and access to magazines and Wi-Fi? Is your administrative staff friendly and attentive to each patient? What about your medical staff? Do they put patients at ease? Are they on time and careful not to rush patients through their appointments?
Check out: 10 things patients hate about healthcare practices
Following her visit, Thelma enters the “engagement” phase. During this phase, you must keep your practice top-of-mind to make sure she follows your treatment plan and returns for follow-up care.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that doctors often believe that, once the initial visit has taken place, they do not need to maintain regular communication with that patient — but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your patient will have formed some type of opinion of you, your staff, and your office. It’s up to you to understand your patient’s experience and continue to build a unique relationship with her.
Action steps to consider: Do you administer patient satisfaction surveys that ask patients to rate their experience? Do you send follow-up care reminders or newsworthy emails to keep in contact? Do you update content on your website regularly so it is always accurate?
For the moment, you are done: You’ve taken an imaginary walk through Thelma’s patient journey, thinking about how you could improve her experience at the various touchpoints she faced. Now, it’s time for Thelma to take over. Your hope is that she begins the “advocacy” phase, in which she becomes a de facto marketing agent for your healthcare practice.
Action steps for Thelma: Telling her close friends about her positive experience with you, posting about her experiences on Facebook and other social media, personally recommending you to a friend, and discussing new content delivered by email and through the website with others.
For more information related to this topic, check out “5 ways patient experience affects healthcare practice success.”