Mapping the Patient Journey


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.

The “patient journey” is the driving force behind successful healthcare marketing—and by extension, healthcare exhibiting. More than a buzzword, “patient journey” has staying power, as healthcare professionals (HCPs) acknowledge that patients, not products, need to be their focus—and that brand loyalty is not as important as real-world evidence. Savvy healthcare marketers know the patient journey is not only critical but is also a legitimate marketing platform, which means that it needs to be an integral part of the healthcare exhibit.

What is the patient journey?

Like any other construct that overlaps science and marketing, the patient journey is open to a variety of mappings. A conventional approach is the linear one:

  • The patient becomes aware of and recognizes symptoms.
  • The patient seeks medical attention and receives a diagnosis.
  • The HCP reviews treatment options with the patient.
  • Together the patient and the HCP review brand selection and brand accessibility.
  • The patient and the HCP arrive at a program of adherence, awareness of therapeutic conditions, and new options for treatment.

Bringing the patient journey to the healthcare exhibit

Assuming that this linear model is accepted by most HCPs attending medical meetings and is at least as valid as other interpretations of the journey, healthcare marketers charged with trade show exhibit programs must find ways to bring this scenario into the experience provided for HCPs. Here are some effective ways to do this:

  • Data has always played a significant role in the healthcare exhibit, but how often has the data been connected to patients and the way they behave? With the help of a healthcare exhibit house, marketers have a chance to go beyond data and make their exhibit personal and relevant.
  • New therapies and new mechanisms of action (MOAs) are critical to outlining treatment options to HCPs. Whether the exhibit is non-promotional and/or focused on the therapeutic area or is commercial, focusing on approved products, the exhibit staff should include scientists who can explain to HCPs the way new therapies work and how to build compliance within the patient population.
  • The reasons patients make decisions about their health should be clearly explored in the exhibit. Programs supporting the therapies and materials that help patients make choices should be accessible to HCPs visiting the exhibit.

Mapping the Patient Journey

While this content is essential, the map of the patient journey—or since we’re talking about face-to-face communications—the patient experience, how can healthcare exhibitors translate this into engagement with HCPs?

Klick Health recently published their Patient Experience Map for marketers to use. By taking the pillars of this process to the exhibit environment, we can make an effective breakthrough in changing the emphasis of the exhibit from products to patients. Here’s what Klick recommends:

  • Research: Learn all you can about the patients and their experiences either by speaking directly to patients or using online sources. In an earlier post on this site, we noted:

While pharma companies still struggle with regulatory concerns about what can and cannot be posted on social media, patients are having their own conversations, and those conversations can help direct marketing efforts. There are groups on Facebook—the top platform for sharing health information–supporting people with almost every diagnosed disease; yes, most of these groups are closed, but the only barriers to joining are those meant to weed out trolls. WEGO Health found that 91% of patients agree that online communities play a role in their health decision.

These sources will help link the physical symptoms with the emotional states they create so that HCPs will enter the patient’s reality more holistically.

  • Map the current state of the patient journey. What are the prevailing treatments? What products are currently most prescribed? How do you understand the patient journey now—and how can you make it more precise?
  • Map the future. Use the knowledge and insights you have accumulated to describe a better solution for patients. Get consensus on the approach you are taking as well as additional insights.

Adding to Klick’s suggestions, we recommend that you take this map to your healthcare exhibit house and charge them with turning it into a real, living, breathing experience for HCPs who are looking for exactly this approach. Keep the process collaborative to focus on the patient journey.

Further patient involvement

As patients become increasingly involved in their own treatment, the educational level of materials needs to be assessed Not every patient is educated and compliant; many lack medical and scientific literacy.

According to the JAMA Internal Medicine [May 2013], “Despite good intentions many patient educational materials are too difficult for patients and their families to grasp. The average reading level of groups ranging from the American Society of Anesthesiologists to the American Psychiatric Association fell anywhere from 9th grade to the sophomore year of college.” That’s far above the 4th to 6th grade level recommended by the AMA and by several U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fostering adherence

JAMA includes several perspectives on the doctor-informed patient dynamic that provide broad talking points. These perspectives show that context beyond statistics is necessary if the healthcare industry is going to be able to make sense of what constitutes valuable care, how much of a long view is necessary to assess value, and where the patient stands in what is purportedly a dynamic where the patient’s say-so is a given part of medical care.

Adherence demands patient-accessible materials, and exhibits need to be patient centered rather than product centered. There is a direct correlation between the length of content and users disconnecting from the content. Images and call-outs strategically placed bring people into the content and invite them on the journey.

In the words of the late C. Everett Koop, M.D., “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.”

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