27 April 2021

Leveraging Patient Journey Mapping

We often hear from clients that they have hung a patient journey map on the wall of their office (pre-COVID) or that they keep it on their desktop. Why? These maps become something to ground decision making through keeping the patient experiences, challenges and needs front of mind.

Patient journey mapping is a way to visualise and get an overview of the clinical and emotional path that a patient takes during their entire care journey. A good map consists of three crucial layers:

· Functional insight: A detailed timeline of the route (or routes) a patient may take, starting from when they first experience symptoms to diagnosis, treatment and ongoing management. At each stage it is important to uncover how long each step takes, which HCPs are involved, their responsibilities and where the interaction takes place.

· Emotional insight: The emotional experience of the patient at each stage, giving a clear view of how they felt about their conversations with HCPs, the level of influence they have in their care plan.

· Informational insight: A clear picture of the resources patients use to gain information and support, with an emphasis on how their dependence and use evolves throughout the pathway. Additionally, we can gain an insight to how patients communicate their condition to loved ones, how they describe it, which materials they share and why.

Patient journey mapping allows us to step into the patient’s shoes and observe the world from their perspective – the good, the bad and the ugly. This can be particularly powerful in the case of rare diseases where their experience is often complex and underrepresented.

In addition to understanding how a patient moves through the clinical pathway, we can also identify pain points and potential blind spots. Therefore, a patient journey map can also be thought of as a “GPS” for product innovation and patient experience design.

To create a robust patient journey map, you may want to consider these four methodologies to add depth and breadth.

  • Secondary Research: Conduct a literature search

Secondary research enables us to immerse ourselves in the literature to understand the therapy area, treatment guidelines and identify key competitors. With this, we can go further and deeper to conceptualize and understand the market, even prior to the market research element starting.

Coupling secondary research with primary market research significantly elevates the quality of the initial hypothesis and research materials developed, and provides perspective, context & credibility to the insights.

  • Digital Scrape: Understand their internet history

The internet is one of the first sources of information patients seek when experiencing initial symptoms. Once diagnosed, their use can rapidly increase as they are either introduced to or identify support groups and forums across various social media platforms.

These communities are safe spaces where patients often observe posts other users share, finding solace knowing their views, challenges and questions are mutual. As they build up confidence, some patients may express their emotions, views and experiences without the fear of judgment and weight of familial expectations – they can be themselves, unapologetically.

A digital scrape will allow you to see the bigger picture, identify important trends and themes in unfiltered and unbiased conversations.

  • PRFs: Real-world approaches to treatment decisions

A patient record form (PRF) is typically completed by a physician and includes information about a cohort of patients, including diagnosis details, tests administered, and treatments prescribed. They are one of the most effective tools to attain real-world clinical data as there is often a disconnect between the stated approach (what is reported in market research) and the reality (what is happening).

Used as a tool during qualitative interviews, PRFs create an atmosphere where HCPs come to life as they are free to talk about their patients, a topic they are visibly passionate about. 

Furthermore, discussions grounded in real-word examples not only provide us with an accurate picture of current prescribing behaviour, but also gives us a better understanding of how they may prescribe in the future.

  • Digital Ethnography: Document the day-to-day

Ethnography is about observing people in their natural environment to understand cultural themes, issues, and behaviours. However, the simple presence of a researcher is unnerving and can significantly bias the results. A phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect explains how participants subconsciously respond to being observed by downplaying their emotions or altering their behaviour to align with what they believe will please the researcher.

Other aspects of experimental design, such as how the investigator interacts with the participants, who the participants are, and what the participants are expected to do, can also impact the validity of the findings.

Digital ethnographic research is a richer, more inclusive, and convenient methodology compared to in-person observation. We can expand the scope of the research across broader geographies, it enables patients to document their activities in real-time, and removes the researcher bias.

Additionally, technology (FitBit, Smartwatches, wearable cameras) can be leveraged to bypass the challenges of relying on reported data. Collecting data in real-time allows us to gain deep insight into the subconscious behavioural patterns and lifestyle adaptations patients implement.

At Vox.Bio, we believe in building a patient journey map that delivers business-critical insight and lives on as part of your brand plan. We need to look holistically at the patients’ experience to truly identify gaps, vulnerabilities and needs.