Today’s consumers are used to engaging with businesses on their own terms, whether that’s online banking or shopping via an app or mobile device with a few clicks. While this consumerization may have started in other industries such as retail and financial services, it’s quickly extending into healthcare.

Patients expect a similar ease of use with their healthcare and are pushing for more digitization. A recent survey found 64% of patients use a digital device to manage their health, forcing providers to rethink their strategy for patient engagement.

So how do you build a patient-centered experience that doesn’t disappoint? It certainly isn’t easy, but here are four steps that can help you build an effective patient engagement experience for your organization.

Get a full picture of your patient touchpoints

Patients currently interact with health systems through numerous communication points. They might start searching a website to find a care location or look up a doctor in a specific specialty. They could interact with a call center to get more information or schedule an appointment. More digitally-inclined patients might use mobile health apps to search for specialists, check if their doctor has privileges at a certain hospital, or read health tips via a curated feed.

Take a closer look at all the ways patients are using these channels to interact with your organization. This will give you a comprehensive picture you can use for the next steps.

Next, it’s time to zero in on the patient perspective by analyzing what their experiences are today and how might they need to be redesigned.

Map common patient journeys to pave the way for more streamlined experiences

Now that you have a full picture of all the ways patients could engage with your organization, the next stage involves connecting these into paths a patient could take, and then isolating the most common journeys.

It’s true that every patient is unique, but you’ll find there are common reasons why patients engage with a healthcare organization. They may be trying to make appointments, get lab results, or renew a prescription, for instance.

By identifying the most common reasons patients engage and conducting a gap analysis to determine the distance between your existing approach, you can optimize those journeys to improve satisfaction, as well as surprise and delight patients with excellent customer service.

This approach is consistent with how other industries improve customer experience. For example, travel websites consistently look at how travelers research and book flights, examining the path from initial research to travel booking and preparation.

This way the organization can learn what positive and negative experiences a customer encounters along the way. The results can improve the customer experience and identify opportunities to improve efficiencies.

This step is an important foundation for redesigning key experiences to make them friction-free for patients and scalable for providers. And don’t forget, the patient journey doesn’t end with your organization. Design for the broader patient experience and any other providers involved.

Delivering a consistent, frictionless experience across channels and throughout common patient journeys requires a data-driven view of the patient.

Assess your data environment to find gaps and create a comprehensive view

In the third step, evaluate each patient journey to determine what information is needed where, when, and by whom. In this stage, organizations should be asking: What data do we have today and where is it stored? Where are the gaps?

Patient data typically resides in a disparate network of systems that don’t interact. In addition to clinical data, additional information must also be gathered from a broad spectrum of sources. This might include non-clinical data such as the patient’s access to transportation, preferential data like communication preferences, or historical data from patient interactions across channels. The challenge is making this data accessible, connected, and consumable by the right people at the right time—while maintaining strict privacy and permissions. This assessment is the first step towards building the unified view that supports an exceptional patient experience across the organization.

Options for this include: surfacing siloed information on a single, unified platform, consolidating applications, or using intelligent systems to automate data movement between systems. This will help providers achieve greater transparency and collaboration at points along the patient journey.

Learn from other organizations that are making the shift to modern patient engagement

After you’ve inventoried touchpoints, mapped patient journeys and analyzed your data environment, it’s helpful to understand how other organizations are approaching similar challenges.

Inspira Health Network of New Jersey transformed their patient experience with a diverse group of solutions called the Inspira Innovation Center. First, they conducted a thorough assessment, following the steps outlined above to develop solutions that were compelling, intuitive and easy to use. Whether a patient engaged via chatbot, mobile health apps or the customer care center, Inspira endeavored to not only provide the right care, but ensure that each channel offered a seamless experience every time.

For example, patients who needed urgent care could find the closest clinic with the shortest wait time, contact the facility, and provide their information in advance to  minimize time spent in the waiting room. They could also interact directly with their clinicians between visits through a mobile app or web portal. As a result, call center volume is up while abandoned calls are down, and urgent care visits are up while wait times have decreased.

Inspira’s strategic approach to patient engagement provides a more cohesive experience, enabling them to provide care where it’s needed, keep patients out of emergency rooms, reduce unnecessary clinical visits, and bring healthcare costs under control. They’ve also increased access to healthcare in their community and helped promote better patient outcomes.

Craft an exceptional patient experience with a unified approach

Developing an effective patient engagement strategy may seem daunting, but by understanding patient touchpoints, mapping common journeys, building a clearer picture of existing data, and learning from others, health organizations can take the first steps towards building a new approach. Read our patient engagement eBook to discover how Microsoft can help you deliver a tailored, frictionless experience that exceeds patient expectations, strengthens patient relationships and helps them gain more control over their health.