Uncovering the Patient Journey

personal journeyMarket Strategies has recently had the privilege of working on patient journey projects within healthcare, life sciences and consumer packaged goods. Clients in these industries often require patient journey market research as new products approach launch, as new indications are forthcoming or as a market shifts significantly. Why do it? Because there is a real desire to genuinely understand the stories patients have to tell. To be effective, marketers must understand how the patient experience overlays with that of the healthcare professional (HCP) and how both of those layer on to what the new product or service will offer. It allows marketing teams to say, “I know this patient. I know this treater. I can see where my product can help…or where it will miss the mark.”  It is the lens of empathy overlapping with the lens of business.

A Deep View of Patient Experiences

Learning about the journey involves gaining a very deep, well-rounded view of patients experiencing a specific disease. We capture a current and historic perspective of each patient, starting with life before the diagnosis (for context) and onset of symptoms through diagnosis, treatment considerations, treatment selection and disease progression. Each patient journey is unique from the disease category, where the patient is in their journey and a host of other complex considerations like health insurance, social economic status and age.

Patient journey research engagements are ‘higher-touch’ with participants and clients, and they require careful planning and clear expectations. We can use multiple methods for capturing insights, usually based on a variety of qualitative methods like online bulletin boards, video diaries, in-home ethnographies, caregiver interviews and in-office ethnographies with the HCPs as well as more traditional interviews.  For true in-depth understanding of the patient journey, we prefer to use an anthropological approach, getting as close to patients—and their loved ones—as possible at different points along their journey. One of our best examples of this was a six-month engagement with patients recently diagnosed with breast cancer. These brave women allowed us to literally follow them through their personal journey from diagnosis through treatment, creating one of the most emotional, deep and insightful patient journeys we have ever seen.

Research Considerations for Patient Journey Projects

This approach comes with some important considerations including time, budget, flexibility and the level of tolerance the client has for direct patient and HCP interaction. Some clients are uncomfortable with in-home visits that do not allow them to personally attend the research. And not all clients are comfortable with in-office HCP visits due to HIPAA concerns. However, the best market research teams have a clear understanding of what is at stake and can demonstrate the power such in-situ interviews have meeting patients where they are.

I recently had a completely opposite experience, having seen a pure quantitative approach another company used for patient journey work. I was not surprised to see how this method created more questions than answers, including:

  • Why are some patients waiting so long to seek help?
  • How do they cope with their disease on a day-to-day basis?
  • What are their needs at the various stages of their journey?

The quantitative method certainly identified the most common patient flow through the healthcare system and delivered a solid understanding of how many patients were at different points along the journey. But, it was missing the deeper, more emotional patient insights to complete the journey and reveal a clear marketing strategy.

The Human Condition as Researcher or Participant

When I look across our company at the various patient journey or path-to-purchase studies we conduct, I am struck by how I could be the participant—not the researcher—in several of them. I am not defined by just one journey as a mom purchasing cereal for her daughter or as a patient suffering from migraines; I am both of those things and more. I am part of many different journeys. We, as a company, are quick to remind each other and our clients of this. This is what makes our job as researchers so challenging and interesting. Humans are made up of so many unique elements, facets and roles in life, and we are all working through our own personal journeys; it’s a wonder any marketer can clearly speak to us at all!

Email or call me at 734.542.7662 if you are interested in learning how we help clients create a holistic, deep understanding of the patient journey.

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