Relearning the user journey map — lessons from healthcare

The need for healthcare has grown exponentially in the past 10 years. In 2018, it was worth 8.45 billion, and in 2022, it’s expected to increase to 11.9 billion.

As if these eye-watering numbers aren’t enough, the onset of COVID-19 has stressed the importance of affordable, timely services backed by well-supported medical staff.

The applications of AI and telemedicine in the healthcare industry have greatly boosted the availability of healthcare delivery and clinicians, thereby reducing costs for employers. Globally, telemedicine will be worth more than $66 billion by the year 2021, based on a Mordor Intelligence report.

With healthcare becoming increasingly digital, I found myself gravitating towards the influence of design in this fast-growing industry.

Since I do not have a health sciences or medical background, I looked to other means of learning.

One interesting course that stood out to me was Delft University’s Introduction to Patient Journeys in Healthcare. As an introduction to applying UX journey mapping to a healthcare setting, it was right up my alley. In the past 8 weeks, I’ve had to adapt my existing design skills around a healthcare setting, specifically in creating a patient journey.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Reframing my mindset

A typical user experience journey visualizes the actions and emotions of a user as they interact with a product/brand over time. This often includes a goal, its touchpoints to achieve that goal, and the channels that a user interacts with to do so.

It can be as simple as finding their house keys, to a complex sequence such as signing in and ordering a product online.

Timelines can be as short as minutes, to months, depending on what goals the journey is mapping.

In healthcare, a patient journey is similar, but instead of being focused on a key user persona, it can include multiple personas. Known as actors, they can be both products/services, and people. In addition, there is usually a main actor and secondary actors.

Since I was used to creating user journeys focused on 1–2 groups of users, having to consider different touchpoints across both the main and secondary users required me to break out of my old habits.

Everything but the kitchen sink

Although the course revolved around empathizing with the patient, often times the patient had interactions with all other medical staff. Whether it was the main clinician, nurses, attendants, or even manufacturers of the patient’s medical products, I had to consider all these actors involved in a person’s healthcare.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that I believe can apply to patients.

In the healthcare context, it can be said:

“It takes a community of providers to treat a person.”

With this in mind, let’s break down a typical doctor’s appointment.

Imagine you have a cough and a sore throat. The kind where your throat’s all scratchy and your voice is hoarse. Your lungs hurt whenever you cough, but not bad enough to stop you from going on with your day.

After a few days of pushing yourself, your cough is getting worse and you finally decide to make an appointment. Since there’s a pandemic going on, you use a telemedicine service to find an available doctor.

Your steps might be:

  • Open a telehealth app or call your clinic
  • Schedule an appointment to see a doctor
  • Get diagnosis during appointment
  • Receive an emailed or faxed prescription
  • Send or fax the prescription to the closest pharmacy
  • Have the pharmacy fill the prescription
  • The pharmacy checks the drug availability beforehand and prepares prescription
  • Speak to a pharmacist at the pharmacy
  • Pick up prescription
  • Payment / Subsidy

This entire patient journey is an ideal one — imagine how many more steps and actors are involved for complex illnesses or procedures!

Exploring emotions

I have never met anyone who hasn’t been to the doctor at least once in their lives. Whether it’s for a mild sore throat or something more serious, everyone knows how it feels like to be stuck in the waiting room.

We go through all sorts of emotions when we’re sick. From worrying about how serious the illness may be, to hoping for a quick recovery, to the boredom of spending 20 minutes scrolling through social media, tired of waiting, and finally, the relief of getting a mild diagnosis and leaving the clinic.

Seeing a doctor causes many mixed feelings. Especially if the diagnosis turns out negative, then it can feel like the world has turned upside down.

However, if the course has taught me anything - it’s super important to look at a provider’s perspective.

In my coursework, the journey did exactly that. I detailed the life cycle of the surgery process. The touchpoints start even before the operation room, where the procurement department orders instruments based on the surgeon’s request. As seen in the image below, actors can be involved throughout all touchpoints, or at specific times.

Another key learning was understanding the manufacturing process. Were certain tools or drugs already available in the hospital or did relied on a third-party provider?

In essence, being able to map out the inter-dependencies between each actor was essential to identifying existing processes. By doing so, I could then identify opportunities, challenges and emotions of the actors involved.

In summary

The healthcare system is complicated. Very, very complicated. In many countries, it’s often bogged down by inefficiencies that make it more difficult than necessary to obtain quality healthcare in a reasonable time frame.

  1. Healthcare is expensive, both for providers and taxpayers (patients)
  2. Even with the top healthcare system in the world, France has its fair share of problems, such as the shortage of local doctors and the rising costs of medicine.
  3. Scaling a healthcare system is a behemoth task that has to factor thousands of staff, devices, platforms and material costs
  4. Medical products and instruments need to be sterile, which increases the use of single-use equipment for convenience
  5. Single-use = Lots of waste = Environmental pollution

As a designer, it is essential to consider the various stages of involvement that all actors have. Not only does good, thoughtful design reduce waste and inefficiencies, it removes barriers for both clinicians and patients, saving more lives in the process.

Where do I go from here?

Even after 8 weeks, this introductory course is only the tip of the iceberg. As someone who wants to apply my design thinking to similar settings, I look forward to joining a team to further my skills. Check out my coursework or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading!

Longtime traveller, UX explorer and chilli lover. INFJ.