Following experience maps to a better website

Understanding the patient journey is key to a positive user experience

By now, J. R.R. Tolkien’s famous line, “Not all who wander are lost” is a cliché; a sentiment scattered far and wide across Pinterest boards and Etsy prints. Unfortunately, one place in which it certainly doesn’t belong is within digital user experience. If a user finds your website confusing, unapproachable or uninformative, it’s not likely you’re going to hold their attention very long. If you can’t maintain your audience’s attention, it’s unlikely you’ll get their business, either.

It’s critical to remember that users arrive at — and engage with — your site for one reason: to satisfy a need. For those healthcare marketers whose competitors offer similar services, an enhanced patient experience may be the most differentiating “product” you can offer. But how can you know what aspects of the patient experience should be enhanced?

Help navigate the journey

When addressing user experience for a new website build, begin with a clear understanding of what users are trying to accomplish and the steps they will likely take. Doing so means as you plan, you can offer guidance and tools to make their journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible. By understanding the user experience, you can plan features, functions and basic navigation to better suit your audience’s needs.

At Core, experience mapping is the first step we take in optimizing a website’s user experience. It is a visual articulation of the actions, stages, channels, thoughts and/or feelings that make up a patient’s journey. While an experience map does not necessarily specify how to solve a patient problem — just like a map does not tell you how to scale a cliff — it does help pinpoint the parts of the journey that can be made more useful, engaging or even enjoyable. It helps the team on what is important to the user and that is incredibly valuable as you plan, build and enhance a new website, particularly as opportunities for innovations arise throughout the project.

Why map the overall user experience?

There are many benefits to mapping an experience before diving into a digital project. A well-considered experience map can:

  • Help create a common frame of reference around the patient experience,
  • Build organizational knowledge of patient behaviors and needs across channels,
  • Identify specific areas of opportunity in order to drive ideation and innovation,
  • Disseminate key patient insights in a format that is both actionable and easy to understand,
  • Keep the patient front and center as initiatives are proposed and activated.

Mapping the experience to your desired destination

The experience mapping process can be broken down into a few key phases. Even working quickly through each stage below can provide valuable insights, a better understanding of the patient journey and result in a more intuitive online user experience to help achieve your business goals.

  1. Meet your user in the middle
    To begin, you must study user behavior and interactions across channels and touch points. This is typically done with the help of subject matter experts, primary patient research (interviews, data analysis, surveys, etc.) and secondary research. The idea is to gather as much information as possible to understand the current state of the patient journey. Remember to ask your development partner about the type of research and resources they use to make sure they can provide you with a truly comprehensive understanding of your website’s audience — or audiences.
  2. Put them in the driver’s seat
    Next, you must synthesize the collected data into key insights about who your user really is. A good web development partner should be able to help you identify the specific feelings and emotions of your user as they navigate to and around your website in search of information. They should be able to advise you on the different barriers and drivers around each turn, to give you a better idea of the kind of support your user will expect you to provide so that they can confidently navigate on their own.
  3. Chart the course
    From there, it’s essential to organize the various steps in your users’ thinking among different stages of consideration. Such stages often include descriptors such as deciding, researching, preparing and recovering, to encompass the full journey from awareness through post-engagement follow-up. Ensure your partner takes each of these stages into consideration as they help you design an experience that is helpful and meaningful for your audience — whether they are online or not.
  4. Give clear directions
    Visualizing a compelling story can help establish empathy and understanding between your brand and your users. Knowing where your user is within their journey and how they are feeling at each stage allows you to identify channels through which you can reach them to provide additional guidance and assistance throughout their navigation or decision-making process — as well as influences that may be more difficult to control (e.g., reviews, recommendations from family and friends, etc.). Match the story's precision level to the degree of certainty you have about the identified journey, the map's estimated lifespan and the needs of the individuals who will use it. A strategic partner should be able to provide you with creative recommendations on how best to communicate directions, where to guide users next and how to factor in the importance of external influencers.
  5. Adhere to the map — and keep the journey delightful
    Follow the map to new ideas and better patient experiences at touch points where there is room to improve. This way, the map can be used proactively to identify points of struggle and areas of improvement as your brand and web presence evolve in the years to come. But it can also assist in specific channel initiatives (website redesign, email campaign, digital advertising, etc), as you consider the overall journey and where and when to deliver content that will keep your users informed and engaged with your brand.

    Whether you have a specific project in mind or are looking more generally at opportunities to improve your marketing approach, a patient journey mapping exercise should be short listed as a key initiative to get you started. For more information on user experience mapping — or how Core can help you facilitate the process — please reach out to us for a personalized consultation.


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Bob Prohaska is the Director of Digital Experience at at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.

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