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How empathy in journey mapping can make or break a patient’s healthcare experience

Chief Experience Officer Jennifer Baron wants patients who get care through UC Davis Health to feel one primary emotion: preparedness.

“I have talked to a lot of people, and I read a lot of comments about people not feeling prepared for their experiences appropriately, so it’s a pretty good opportunity for us to help people feel prepared, seen, and heard,” Baron says.

Podcast host Ryan Donohue recently interviewed Baron for Patient No Longer during the NRC Health Symposium, and learned that she has focused on healthcare throughout her entire career, most recently leading the conversation about how to design the patient experience and connect teams to the promise of putting patients at the center of everything they do at UC Davis Health.

Hosts NRC Health’s Ryan Donohue
Format: Bi-weekly audio and video series
Length: Approximately one hour
Premise: This biweekly series is tailored for healthcare leaders to learn how other industry leaders have overcome challenges to create human understanding, one person at a time
Creating connections to drive organizational change, innovative strategies for patient retention, and digital technologies, among others

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really fantastic colleagues as a team to elevate the voice of our patients through data,” Baron says. “And I think that’s important. I’m a big believer in the importance of the qualitative data from our survey. We tend to get hung up on the quantitative number and how we’re performing in certain ways, but I’m always interested in peeling back the curtains of that and really looking at what it is telling us.”

As a thought leader in healthcare, Baron has championed journey mapping at UC Davis Health, a great visual tool that can help show how stories and feedback shape the patient’s healthcare experience. She has found journey mapping especially compelling for clinical teams, who can’t necessarily see how the healthcare journey threads together or where its pitfalls are, or understand how people are feeling in those moments where things don’t go quite as planned.

“The visual nature of journey mapping helps connect people with the human side of that data,” Baron says.

While healthcare leaders previously looked at patient care as transactional, Baron says the journey map elevates the conversation between leaders and care teams to look at what a patient has to navigate in transitioning from team to team, or at different points of a given experience.

“You can see that experience gap always widening at those transition points,” Baron explains. “With journey mapping, you have a visual representation that can also drive better collaboration and teamwork among your teams as they understand better how to share responsibility for those points of transition across the patient’s journey.”

Another aspect Baron describes as critical is having leadership engaged in the conversation about loyalty, growth, and retention, and how the patient’s journey impacts those factors. As a result of measuring data like this, UC Davis Health has developed a new recognition program wholly based on the voice of patients, which they’ve named the Diamond Doc Award. The quarterly award identifies physicians who have received high scores from patients on their communication effectiveness.

Baron recalls attending a leadership meeting where she’d read a letter a patient had written, about a nurse who took the time to understand who they were and went the extra mile to meet their needs as a human being—not just as a patient.

“It was beautifully written, showing that the nurse was fully present with this patient at all times, attuning to what was important to her,” Baron remembers. “The nurse attended the leadership meeting too, and stood next to me as I read the story, which got a standing ovation. For us, it’s about going beyond just the words on the paper—about connecting them to the people who were involved.”

For Baron, the importance of journey mapping came across to her when she became a patient in a new state herself. Having spent her whole life up to that point in her home state of Indiana, Baron accepted her position at UC Davis Health in December 2019—not knowing they would be moving into a pandemic shortly thereafter. Like many people, she felt unsettled, uncertain, and vulnerable during the pandemic, and gained a new appreciation for the loyalty she’d felt for the service providers she’d gone to for decades.

During the national shutdown—and in quarantine conditions where her in-person interactions were limited—she realized how hard it was to start over and build new relationships with her service providers. The first time she met her new doctor, they were both masked; she had no idea what the doctor looked like, and although their appointment was a great experience, she was aware of the barrier to their communication.

“It’s why, as an organization, we must be intentional about designing meaningful experiences for those we serve,” she says. “We are all viewed as consumers by any service industry that we consume; we’re silly if we don’t believe that each of those service providers has a whole team behind the experiences that we’re receiving, designing and delivering them for us. Healthcare is way behind as an industry in that regard. It’s time we recognize the opportunity to curate a patient’s experience with our brand, intentionally.”

Headed to NGPX 2021?

Don’t miss Jennifer Baron and NRC Health’s Gregory Makoul, Ph.D., M.S., at NGPX 2021, speaking about “The New New Normal: Hitting the Reset Button Post-COVID.” They’ll be delivering their talk on December 1, 2021. Learn more.


To learn more about human-centered design, loyalty, and brand experiences—and why it’s essential to ask patients how something makes them feel—don’t miss this episode of Patient No Longer, featuring Jennifer Baron.