Modern Medicine Embraces the Patient Journey

There is something afoot in the post-fee-for-service world of modern medicine, something that looks an awful lot like marketing. Healthcare providers of all sizes and scopes are beginning to embrace something known as the ‘patient journey’ as a measuring tool to figure out whether value-based care is effective.

In marketing, the same concept is known as the ‘customer journey’. The only difference is that marketing experts have been working with the customer journey for more than a decade. Healthcare is just getting on board. As such, it is not really clear whether the journey concept can be effectively adapted to medicine.

Defining the Journey

The patient journey must be defined before a healthcare facility can determine how to measure it. To that end, we turn again to the marketing sector. Let us assume we are operating a five-star hotel rather than a highly respected hospital. We would define the customer journey as everything a hotel guest experiences from the first moment of inquiry to completion of a post-stay survey. It would include things like:

  • researching price and availability
  • dealing with customer service agents
  • booking the room and accessing amenities
  • interactions with hotel staff
  • the condition of the hotel property
  • check-in and checkout procedures
  • price and overall quality of the property and service.

Now, take all those elements and apply them to the hospital setting. There is a lot to account for, isn’t there? It turns out the patient journey transcends such simplistic analytics as doctor-to-patient ratios and daily room rates. The patient journey encompasses the entire experience from the first contact with a doctor until the particular problem being treated has been fully, and successfully addressed.

A Lot More Gray Areas

Our healthcare system is now looking at the patient journey concept as a way of putting more focus on value-based care and positive outcomes. Conventional thinking explains that positive patient journeys should result in better outcomes and more patient satisfaction which, in turn, should reduce the cost of health care by reducing readmission rates, choosing more appropriate therapies, and so forth.

As wonderful as this sounds, the patient journey model has a systemic weakness: it does not account well for all the gray areas of medicine. Tracking the customer journey at a hotel is a lot more straightforward than tracking the patient journey in a hospital. Hotel stays are governed by very distinct principles that are black or white; healthcare delivery has a lot more gray.

We Will Know Soon Enough

One of the more favorable aspects of the patient journey concept is that analytics provides fairly quick results. We will know soon enough how things are going when the data starts rolling in. In the meantime, hospitalists, locums, private practice owners, nursing staff, and even administrators will be learning how to create a positive patient journey from start to finish.

Large-scale healthcare organizations will lead the drive to establish patient journey standards in the coming months. The biggest organizations will have the biggest impact, given that they stand to lose the most if they cannot make outcome-based medicine work.

Healthcare teams will play a key role as well. They are the ones delivering healthcare in the trenches, and they will have to have a say in what constitutes a positive patient journey.

Lastly, we cannot forget the patients themselves. They will ultimately decide what constitutes good healthcare delivery. When all the dust settles, they will decide whether the patient journey was one they would willingly take again or not. If not, it will be back to the drawing board.