Patient receiving care from a doctor along the patient journey

Improving Patient Engagement and Retention: Key Stages of the Patient Journey

Navigating the modern healthcare system can be challenging, even if you're familiar with it. From finding the right healthcare providers to scheduling healthcare services to managing billing after the fact, there are many factors that can influence patient experiences.

Understanding the Patient Journey

In its broadest sense, the patient journey refers to the entire process of healthcare, from the initial symptom or concern that leads an individual to seek care, to continuing care and ideally, wellness. Even if your healthcare system excels at one part of this process--maybe your scheduling always runs smoothly, or your providers have an excellent bedside manner--hang-ups in other areas can interrupt a seamless patient journey and lead to less patient engagement and lower patient retention. Here's the individual steps of the patient's journey you should think about.

The Beginning of the Patient Journey: Awareness & Consideration

Awareness is the factor that leads a patient to seek care at a medical facility. This can be any number of factors. They receive a postcard or text reminding them that it's time for a routine check-up, or a friend encourages them to seek a professional opinion on a pain they've been experiencing. After the initial awareness, finding a reliable provider is the next step in the patient engagement journey. Whether they're relying on word of mouth recommendations, finding online reviews, or comparing clinical data, making your clinic easy to find online and building a base of positive reviews on and offline are important for new patient acquisition at this early stage.

When mapping the patient journey, the next step is consideration: the patient must compare the available care providers and choose one that is a good fit for them. Factors like accepted insurance, past patient outcomes, location, and referrals can all come into play as a patient makes this decision. Showing that you prioritize patient needs, have an up-to-date healthcare facility, and seeking to engage patients who have questions can all help patients decide in favor of your practice.

The Patient Journey Continues: Scheduling & Registration

Once a patient has undergone consideration and chosen from their available healthcare providers, they enter the Acquisition stage of the patient journey map, where they reach out to make contact with your practice. At this stage, while a patient is inclined to your practice, they're not locked in just yet--if they encounter a negative patient experience, they're likely to go elsewhere for their healthcare. If patients struggle to find the portal to schedule their appointment, deal with long hold times for a scheduling call, or have to work through a mountain of paperwork for a newly scheduled appointment, they may seek out a provider who makes the process simpler.

To smooth the patient journey and improve patient expectations, make your patient scheduling as streamlined as possible. You could also consider implementing automated appointment reminders to help your patients manage their schedule effectively. These reminders can be sent as emails, text messages, or phone calls, and they mitigate potential pain points related to scheduling and missed appointments. They also form part of a proactive healthcare system, facilitating communication and improving a patient's relationship with their healthcare system.

Healthcare Professionals Take Charge: Care & Treatment

Now we get to the stage that most people think of when they think healthcare. The earlier stages of the patient journey lead up to the in-person visit, where patients interact with healthcare professionals, get answers to their question, and uncover possible treatment paths. At this stage, it's important to encourage patient engagement, as questions can be easily answered, and patients are more likely to walk away with positive impressions of their healthcare experience if they feel like they've been adequately cared for. The mannerisms of doctors and other care providers can also have a major impact on patient satisfaction, so it's important every member of your team understand the impact they have on the patient engagement journey.

It's also an important part of the patient journey to make your clients feel like the health system they're interacting with is accessible. After all, health systems span multiple stakeholders and sit at the intersection of numerous complicated systems, so it's important patients feel like they're understood throughout the entire patient lifecycle. Otherwise, they may be faced with unanswered patient concerns that could impact patient loyalty going forward.

A Complication in the Patient Journey: Billing

Billing is often decried as one of the least pleasant aspects of any healthcare organization. Communication at this stage of the patient journey is crucial, as patient journeys can go sideways if a patient perceives that they are suddenly facing a bill much larger than they expected, or stuck paying for a procedure that their insurance won't cover. Even if paying will never be the most pleasant of patient experiences, mitigating finance-related pain points cause providers to stand out against competing healthcare organizations.

Patient Journey Maps Continue: Ongoing Care

After care is provided and billing is managed, the final stage of the patient journey is ongoing care, which encompasses follow up care instructions, appointment surveys, chronic condition care, and early education on other conditions which the patient could be at risk for. A robust system of continuing care bolsters proactive health and can encourage referrals.

Continued communication with a client is the key to ongoing care--using automated phone calls, emails, and text messages can encourage patient-physician interaction and return visits, without putting too great a strain on your administrative staff. Since this is the final step in a patient journey, it also leaves the most recent impression on patients--you want to make them feel like they're not forgotten once they've left your office.

Streamlining the Patient Journey With Reminderly

If your patient journey mapping shows a need for greater communication, Reminderly can help you gather patient data, drive patient retention, send patient satisfaction surveys, and manage automated appointment reminders, all from one intuitive platform. Reminderly integrates with common scheduling software, and offers custom integrations if needed. With two-way communication, multiple language functionality, waitlist management, and more, it can help at every stage of the healthcare experience. To learn more, send yourself a sample message, or jump right in with a free two week trial, no payment information required.

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