Understanding Healthcare Journey Maps

Istock 611777632

Healthcare journey maps are usually drawn as linear – with a clear start and end. But look closely at the healthcare journey, and you’ll see it’s actually circular. The end of treatment doesn’t mark the journey end. It’s merely a lull, a period of maintenance before the next symptoms or life events trigger the journey to resume. This isn’t pessimism or an assertion that we all keep getting sick. It’s an acknowledgment that each healthcare encounter – how we find care, receive care, and engage aftercare – dramatically impacts how we make healthcare decisions when the next health issue arises.

By focusing on the circular nature of the journey – and fine-tuning each touchpoint in that journey – health systems can increase satisfaction, loyalty, and retention among patients,

What is a healthcare journey map?

A healthcare journey map is a depiction of each touchpoint in a patient journey. It’s usually in a visual format, detailing the full journey in one visual snapshot. However, it can be text-based. Either way, the key is to describe each phase, touchpoint, and related issues – motivations, pain points, emotions, messaging opportunities, or other details.

What is the difference between a healthcare journey map and a healthcare customer experience map?

Healthcare journey maps and healthcare experience maps are different names for the same thing. The primary purpose of crafting the journey map is to better understand – and ultimately improve – the customer journey. And so it is often called a healthcare customer experience map.

What are the phases of a healthcare journey map?

No matter what symptoms or diagnosis – and whether in-person or virtual, primary or specialty care – the journey goes something like this:

Before treatment:

  • Deciding to act – new symptoms or a life event prompts action.
  • Researching care options – researching care options: doctors, locations, specialties
  • Making contact – reaching out to learn more or schedule: by phone, online, web chat or other means

During treatment

  • Pre-service – addressing insurance issues, completing intake forms, getting medical records, and related issues
  • Arrival – getting to and waiting at the physical location or virtual waiting room
  • Appointment – time spent with clinicians
  • Diagnostics – additional labs, imaging or other diagnostic tests
  • Treatment plan – providing a program or advice to treat or manage a health issue.
  • Discharge – patient departs, follow-up instructions provided

After treatment

  • Follow-up – receiving prescriptions, booking follow-up appointments, and related issues
  • Maintenance – managing health and maintaining wellness.


What is a journey map touchpoint?

At each of the phases above, a patient may experience many touchpoints. For example, in researching care options, a person may do many Google searches, talk to friends, approach patient advocacy groups, contact their insurance company, and much more. Each of the actions is a touchpoint. In an ideal journey, the touchpoints are seamless, each leading to a clear next step. In a convoluted journey, touchpoints may be circuitous or completely disjointed, leading to dissatisfaction.

What does a typical journey map template include?

There is no one ideal journey map template or model. The ideal journey map design may vary depending on the specific journey being outlined and how the journey map will be used. More detail isn’t necessarily better. Too much detail may clutter the story if the goal is to provide a big-picture view. On the other hand, if the journey map is being used as an internal map to fine-tune improvements, insufficient detail will mean key opportunities are missed. Ultimately, the journey map should tell a meaningful story about the healthcare consumer experience and clarify opportunities for improvement.

Are healthcare journey maps based on healthcare personas?

All journey maps are based on a persona. In some cases, the persona will be drawn out in detail – with persona card and journey map working in tandem. Or the persona might not be built out at all, just conceptually considered: “This is the journey of a mother whose 12-year-old daughter appears to have sprained her ankle.” And some journey maps combine the persona and journey map into one. Learn more about healthcare personas.

How do you use journeys in healthcare?

Marketing, clinical, and patient experience teams can all use healthcare journey maps. Marketing tends to own the “before” phases – when people are healthcare consumers, searching for the best care option. Clinical and patient experience teams tend to focus on the “during treatment” phases. And the “after” phase is too often ignored. (This is a massive loss for both the patient and the health system. Read what happens when you ignore the “after” phase of the healthcare journey.)

Again, the journey is circular. It’s the focus on creating a seamless connection across all touchpoints, again and again that builds a better healthcare consumer and patient experience – and ultimately builds loyalty.

Are healthcare journey maps like retail journey maps?

Healthcare journey maps follow the same concept of retail journey maps, because like retail consumers, healthcare consumers go “shopping.” They follow a series of steps and a whirl of emotions as they make their healthcare decisions. Both retail and healthcare journey maps address pain points and are focused on ultimately building a more seamless journey. But healthcare is much more complicated, intersects with many more systems, has less transparent pricing, and tends to be much more emotional – particularly for journeys where life or quality of life is at stake. All of this means that the process of building a healthcare journey map looks very different than the process for retail journey maps.

Why create a healthcare journey map?

There are many reasons to create healthcare journey maps! Read this list of 10 Reasons to Build Healthcare Journey Maps.

How do I get started?

In our work with healthcare organizations around the country, we’ve discovered the key is to focus on an area that has a genuine opportunity for traction. There’s no point in going through the work of building a journey map only to have it sit in a drawer. So first step is to determine a section of your health system that has some identified, even if vague, pain points and a team ready to address them. Also, if there is only limited interest in making real change, sometimes the journey map – detailing a plethora of pain points – can help build more traction.

Then find a subject matter expert with experience in building healthcare journey maps – who understand the complex systems and emotional underpinnings that guide the healthcare journey. They’ll start the process of learning the personas behind the journey. And they’ll carefully research each touchpoint in the journey – building toward a visual document and strategic recommendations to help you craft a better healthcare consumer experience and ultimately better health outcomes.

With that framework in mind, you’re ready to get started! Here’s the 5-step process to build a healthcare journey map.

About the Author

Linda is a healthcare digital strategy leader with 20 years of progressive experience in guiding diverse health system teams to develop and execute digital experiences and infrastructures. She is passionate about improving healthcare consumer experience, while also ensuring business ROI, to help health systems expand on their broader missions to improve their communities' health and well-being.

More from this Author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to the Weekly Blog Digest:

Sign Up