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UX research in the healthcare industry. Methods for mapping patient experience

How you like that:

The following "joke" fits like a glove to this article about Patient Journey. It goes like this.

A woman comes to the doctor and sits down. After a moment, the doctor recognizes her face and asks in an unconvincing-sounding voice:

"It's been a long time since you've visited me. Why is that?”

"I was sick," the woman replied.

A paradoxical and terrifyingly unfunny joke. However, it reflects most patients' experiences, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs very well.

Avoiding treatment is not at all uncommon, just as it is not uncommon to overlook patients' feelings, emotions, and evaluations in the treatment process (these are essential elements of the Patient Journey).

It's hardly surprising that the woman in the joke only shows up at the doctor's office when she's healthy. That is when she is strong and ready to face the healthcare system's challenges.

It's not that surprising, given our own and overheard experiences. And I don't mean only public facilities, but also private ones.

What does UX research look like in the healthcare industry? What are the methods for Mapping Patient Journey?

Let's find out.

We develop award-winning apps for patients and doctors.

Patient Journey/Patient Experience Research

Let's start with fundamental questions. Can we improve the Patient Experience? What is a Patient Journey? How can we research it? How can we map the Patient Journey, and with what tools? Today we're getting into the issue of studies that are extremely useful in designing digital products (Healthtech) for the medical industry.

service design the story
Human Behind Every Number – content, multimedia, and strategic project.
Providing insight into the experiences of patients participating in clinical trials. Executed by The Story Service Design, it was awarded the prestigious IF Design Award 2018 and Awwwords Honors.

So, let's learn about patients' ills and how to discover them. The UX Research in the medical industry, or should I say PX in the medical industry, and methods for mapping Patient Experience are issues that we'll discuss today (a very relevant matter in the era of a pandemic).

What is Patient Experience?

You may have heard of similar concepts such as User Journey, Customer Journey, and User Experience. Whether we're talking about Customer, User, or Patient Experience, we always mean the experience of a particular group of people that is developed as a result of interactions (metaphorically referred to as the Journey) – interaction with a brand, digital product, or hospital, clinic, infirmary, or sanatorium.

We mean the experiences created in all contact channels, in the so-called Touchpoints, places where this contact occurs. By contact, we mean not only physical contact (face-to-face) with personnel but also contact with information media (digital or analog) and infrastructure.

A Touchpoint – in the case of Patient Experience – can be a web application, a mobile app, a reception desk, an infoline, an emergency room, a queue, or an office. Patient experiences include visits to doctors' offices, hospitalizations, undergoing examinations, treatment procedures and indications, and therapeutic and restorative practices.

Patient Experience is often defined as the sum of all experiences (interactions, emotions, impressions, sensations, perceptions, beliefs, and evaluations) that arise at the Touchpoints during contact with a particular facility.

the stack of the project Human Behind Every Number
Human Behind Every Number – the stack of the project that was implemented in 5 countries and encompassed 6 therapeutic areas and was covered in more than 20 articles in the international trade press.

With that said, the beginning of the PX initiates the search and selection of a facility. Favoring one facility over another is, from a Patient Experience research perspective, a decision, information that is extremely valuable and useful. That's because it allows us to understand the shortcomings and flaws (or advantages) of our business.

The Patient Experience Research is extremely valuable for the quality of service. It helps improve comfort, satisfaction, and speed of recovery and economize the operations of medical facilities. Last but not least, it also serves to design better, more functional, ergonomic, and satisfying digital products.

It's not just about applications that serve organizational matters but also applications that support treatment, which are part of medical devices, providing support to a patient in the recovery process.

Recurring problems, discovered through Patient Experience research, are most often related to:

  • Availability of medical services (e.g., waiting time for an appointment with a specialist, for a specialized examination, for a place in a specialized ward)
  • Communication (e.g., the clarity of the language used by doctors, the personal culture of staff)
  • The course of the treatment process (e.g., complications after treatment, the harmony of cooperation between different facilities)
  • Attitude and behavior of medical staff (e.g., empathy, respect, and interest shown to patients)
  • Quality of service (e.g., quality of food, cleanliness, sterility of rooms)
  • Subjectivity – the inclusion of a patient in the treatment process (e.g., through reliable and comprehensive information about their condition, the expected results, but also the risks associated with the implementation of a particular treatment method).
  • A sense of security and purpose, acceptance of measures (e.g., resulting from including the patient in the treatment process, making them a subject, not an object of treatment)
  • Effectiveness (e.g., related to the speed of testing and the scope of diagnostic tests)
  • Ensuring mental, emotional, and physical well-being (e.g., providing psychological support).

The consequences of negligence, errors, shortcomings, and deficits in any of these dimensions, in the standard, quality, and manner desired by patients, are easy to imagine. Frustration, disappointment, fear, uncertainty, hostility, prejudice, distance, and distrust – are just the most common effects that can arise from a dysfunctional operation of a medical facility.

However, the cost is not one-sided and also applies to a medical facility that loses:

  • image, reputation
  • effectiveness.

We cannot ignore the emotions, intellect, and perceptions of patients. They translate directly into the evaluation of a facility, loyalty to it, and the opinions spread about it.

Mental and physical well-being is a link, an element, a goal, and a function crucial to understanding the essence of the Patient Experience. Achieving a high level of mental and physical well-being is, and certainly should be, a goal of any medical facility. To achieve it, it is essential to follow the Patient Journey.

Patient experience (along with clinical effectiveness and safety) is considered one of the three most important elements responsible for quality in healthcare.

Moreover, the Patient Experience positively influences the treatment process (its speed), clinical effectiveness and improves patient safety.

What is a Patient Journey?

The Patient Experience Research takes into account all stages of a disease. It begins with the first symptoms of a disease and ends with their disappearance.

The research starting point is to assume that the disease process, the process of recovery, is linear and resembles a Journey, the goal of which is full recovery or improvement of health.

A journey in which we can distinguish stages. Within them, we can identify places and moments where patients interact with personnel, experience procedures, norms (formal and informal, explicit and implicit), values, and goals.

Patient Journey Mapping is a tool for visually depicting experiences (functional and emotional) from the patient's perspective.

They allow a holistic view of the treatment process, the process of providing medical services, its key stages, crucial procedures, and typical problems and effects.

What is equally important, the Patient Journey Map allows us to see the process, with all or almost all of its dependencies.

It's a much more effective tool than static analysis of single, context- and process-isolated Touchpoints.

The purpose of mapping the Patient Journey is to diagnose, capture, and define:

  • emotions and feelings
  • motivations
  • resistances
  • attitudes (explicit and implicit)
  • opposites
  • facilities
  • observations
  • behaviors
  • added values.

The knowledge gained through this tool allows designers of services, products (especially digital) to optimize the Patient Experience. That is extremely important. And why? Because modern patients are transferring their consumer expectations to the medical services field. They expect to be shown interest in their problems. They choose (if they have the opportunity) facilities according to their preferences and values. They also expect, in addition to medical assistance, added values, especially related to relationships (attitude, care, subjective treatment).

They treat digital products (web apps, mobile apps) as a preview, a promise of care, of treatment in line with their expectations. Digital products are also a vital Touchpoint to start building a relationship with a patient. And this is a value, as we have already said, particularly appreciated by the latter.

What are the benefits of Patient Journey Mapping?

Patient Journey Maps allow us to:

  • build and maintain relationships
  • make the Patient Experience more purposeful, predictable, rational, and understandable
  • diagnose problems and needs (functional and emotional)
  • harmonize the work, roles, and scopes of competence of individual employees
  • correct errors in service or care
  • enhance care, attention, and interest (emotional work)
  • improve the quality and effectiveness of treatment
  • improve, and control reputation and image
  • understand emotions, attitudes, biases, expectations
  • meet expectations
  • indicate positive experiences, emotions, opinions
  • diagnose important, crucial Touchpoints
  • find quick and usually simple solutions to problems (Quick Wins)
  • increase patients' sense of security and purpose.

The wide range of benefits makes Patient Journey Maps a handy tool. It's used to design services, procedures, standards, interactions, digital products, and analog solutions.

Methods of Patient Journey Mapping

While there is no one universal Map template, we can point out the constant (or frequently recurring) elements that should appear in every Map, regardless of whether it applies to:

  • a public or private facility
  • a diagnostic or therapeutic facility
  • a general or specialized facility
  • a small, medium, or large facility.

Each time, the Patient Journey Map should be adapted to the needs and goals of the research.

web and mobile application - patient journey map
An application that was developed by The Story and used in clinical trials by KCR. It calculates, records, and reminds users about their next appointments.

Journey Maps

The most typical components of a Map primarily include:

  • a timeline covering experiences before deciding on a treatment, during it, and shortly after it
  • an axis of the emotional journey
  • a functional journey axis, which includes office visits, performed examinations, hospitalizations, etc.
  • an axis with Touchpoints detailing their location, method, and nature of contact
  • an axis of tasks that patients and personnel have to perform
  • an axis of the course, stages of disease (if we map the Patient Journey of specialized wards, such as oncology).

Another way of creating a Map is to highlight within it:

  • asks to be performed by a patient at a given stage of treatment, but also personnel’s tasks at a given Touchpoint
  • goals to be achieved by patients, personnel, facility
  • limitations regarding the most critical issues – from purely medical to administrative and economic
  • actors, that is, people, roles, and professions with whom the patient has contact
  • an axis of the Emotional Journey
  • an axis of the Physical Journey (in this regard, Storyboards are a helpful tool, which I will write about in a moment :) )
  • Touchpoints with personnel and tools, both strictly medical equipment and equipment that supports treatment (e.g., apps that assist the patient in treatment).

Personas of Patients

By typifying and categorizing patients, we can more accurately capture the specific needs of a particular group. Variables such as gender, age, education, and wealth are classic and obvious sources of differences in expectations and attitudes.

However, no less important issues are:

  • attitudes toward health and illness
  • attitudes toward a facility, doctors, medical staff
  • involvement in the treatment process (also understood as interest, increasing knowledge about the disease, and concern for health)
  • emotions aroused by diseases, facilities, doctors, other patients, methods of treatment
  • quality of medical knowledge and its scope, especially concerning myths, stereotypes, and prejudices
  • general attitudes toward healthcare.

Creating Personas of Patients, and therefore model types, allows us to capture their uniqueness, specificity and complexity, and diversity of behavior, emotions, needs, and expectations.

Personas make it possible to address medical offerings more individually. They allow us to create products, services that meet a specific constellation of expectations.


Storyboards are simplified drawings and frames showing typical patient interactions with a facility and its personnel. They're a tool that allows us to visualize situations, their course, and their sequence. They provide insight into the specifics of the interactions taking place at the Touchpoints.

Storyboards are eagerly used for user interface prototyping and process modeling. As I mentioned above, they allow us to visualize the appearance, behavior, and how the representatives of each Persona act.

The effectiveness of this method depends on the following:

  • the level of detail of images
  • the introduction of a text layer (description, dialogue, commentary)
  • expressing the emotions that accompany the interaction
  • the number of frames
  • considering the changes taking place over time.

That's why Storyboards are treated as an auxiliary, complementary method rather than a stand-alone method. Nevertheless, its cognitive qualities, stimulating imagination, empathy, and expanding understanding of the situation from the patient's perspective, are very helpful in designing services and interactions stationary as well as digital.

Designing digital tools based on Patient Journey Mapping

UX Research – the medical industry has known it for a long time. Patient Experience Research in Digital Health is becoming increasingly popular, even indispensable. They're necessary if we want to create a web, mobile app, or other high-tech digital product. And why?

terminyleczenia - a web application with services of the national health fund
TerminyLeczenia.pl – an application created by The Story that allows users to search for the next available treatment date in public healthcare.

No digital product, even the most innovative, health-oriented one, won't attract the interest and acceptance of users and won't become their daily tool if it doesn't meet their expectations.

The functional aspect of a digital product can't dominate the emotional element related to the added value or sympathy it should inspire.

Excessive focus on technical, medical, and therapeutic issues usually results in low satisfaction with use and rapid abandonment.

In designing digital products for the medical (healthtech) industry, aesthetic and emotional experiences are equally important, as is the experience related to the product's role, function, and status in the treatment process.

Using a digital product should be a source of satisfaction and pleasure. It should foster a sense of security, care, concern, and interest.

Patient Journey – Summary

We can create a modern digital product without an awareness of the emotional needs of patients, future users.

Patient Experiences at crucial Touchpoints (and interaction with a web or mobile application are certainly such, etc.) should be discovered through adequate research methods.

Patient Journey Mapping, Personas of Patients, and Storyboards are some of the most popular methods.

When conducting UX research in the medical industry and designing digital products, it is worth remembering that the most valuable research material is obtained from close, direct personal contact with patients.

Qualitative research is the best way to discover the needs, concerns, goals, and methods that patients manifest and expect.

How you like that:
Journal / Redaktor
Author: Radek
UX Writer and researcher by education + experience. Collects The Story's knowledge and shares it on the Journal.
Reviewer: Dymitr Romanowski

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