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Understanding the patient journey

What we can learn from customer service

Customer journey

Patient journey mapping is something that is being adopted within the pharmaceutical industry more and more.

A way of deeply immersing yourself in the world of patients and carers, it is a highly effective method that can form the bedrock of any patient strategy. But the concept of journey mapping is one that has been around for many years. It all centres around ‘customer experience’.

The customer experience

Some of the first academics to address the notion of customer experience were Pine and Gilmore in 1998. They noted that as services are becoming more commoditised, companies are competing on experiences.

Customers have increasingly been putting value on how well their requirements and needs have been met, and the resulting emotions, subjective feelings and associated psychological states that they experience, of which there are hundreds. The increased emphasis on customer satisfaction and interaction with a service has led to a need for smart service design.

Customer journey mapping is seen as essential to developing a differentiated and high-quality customer experience. It allows companies to:

  • Develop a shared view of how things are
  • Put themselves in the shoes of their customers
  • Develop their ability to manage their customer journey
  • Prioritise and drive change

It tells the story of customers’ experiences, from the first time that they engage with a service, through the process of interacting with that service and into their long-term relationship.

An example might be the customers’ journey of travelling abroad on holiday. The process of these literal customer journeys might begin not when they leave the house, but when they begin researching their holiday options. Perhaps they have seen
an advert for a travel company or airline
– perhaps they have heard reviews from friends. They might then start to research their flight options using an app or website, before booking online or over the phone. At this point they may have had several interactions with a company or service.

Then there is the day before travelling – how easy is it to check in in advance, using an app or website? Do they have to pay for additional services? Do they get regular flight updates pushed to them? How do they feel travelling to the airport? What are their interactions with the company before the

flight, checking-in, boarding the plane and during the flight? Then there is the service when they land. And all of this is repeated for the return journey.

Throughout this service, a company has many opportunities to engage with customers, but there are also many opportunities for customers to have a bad experience. And different customers may engage with this service in many different ways – and have different preferences. The customers have the physical process of completing each task, in a number of different channels, but they also have the emotional experience of the service.

The overall satisfaction of customers during this journey can dictate whether they re-use the service, recommend it to their friends (or not), make a complaint, tweet about it – all of which have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

The patient experience

Patient journey mapping in the healthcare industry follows very much the same principles that are evident in commerce. Patients are akin to customers, and they are using a service, whether that is when booking an appointment with their district nurse, being diagnosed by a specialist or awaiting a homecare delivery.

And mapping this journey allows you to understand the patients’ beliefs and behaviours, interactions with different stakeholders and ultimately understand their unmet needs. It provides a basis to drive change and improve patient experience.

You can drill down into one or a small number of particular elements of patients’ experiences, or you can zoom out and map the full end-to-end patient journeys. This will depend on the number of markets, budgets, scope and size of patient population, among other things. The ultimate outcome of a successful patient journey map is a critical analysis of pinch points along the journey, and a strategic and tactical roadmap to help address unmet needs.

Evaluation and creation

Patient journey mapping is an effective tool to help you understand your current service provision. You can understand what your patients are experiencing when using your service, evaluate that experience and make improvements or interventions to help increase patient satisfaction. But you can also use patient journey mapping to help you visualise, define and create a whole new product or service.

By investigating the current landscape that patients face in a particular therapy area, and how they are using existing services supplied by competitors, you can understand what the shortfalls or gaps in that service provision are, and differentiate yourselves by redefining the type of service provision available.

Some key considerations

There are a few essential things to consider when mapping patient journeys:


Everything you do must be grounded in real patient experiences – speak to patients, carers and healthcare professionals. Understand their interactions, behaviours, emotions and issues. There is a range of market research techniques that will allow you to do this.


Forging links with advocacy groups can allow you to engage with more patients and truly understand the issues that they face. You can also share insights with patient advocacy groups to help inform their campaigns or communications, thus strengthening relationships with this key section of the patient community.


While we have talked about patients being ‘customers’, more importantly they are real people, with emotions. Without empathy, you will never be able to get to the heart of the patient journey.


Basing your interpretations on psychological and behaviour change models adds a clinical foundation to any proposed tactical solutions.


Patient journey maps stand and fall on effective interpretation. Merely mapping out journeys and speaking to patients is not enough. Thorough critical analysis by specialist patient engagement experts will provide targeted solutions that can actually change behaviours and clinical outcomes.

Alex Morton is a Patient Communications Specialist at Nucleus Global

4th October 2019

Alex Morton is a Patient Communications Specialist at Nucleus Global

4th October 2019

From: Marketing


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