How to Create a Healthcare Oasis

March 21, 2023 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

I have a cousin who, because of a series of surgeries after an accident, became addicted to opioids. He’s fought it valiantly for many years, but in December his situation went from bad to much worse. When he reached out for help, I jumped on a plane and headed for the west coast to bring him home to Texas for treatment. In addition to his addiction, my cousin is also disabled from the accident, so there was nothing easy about traveling with him. But, as I would soon learn, retrieving my cousin, helping him manage his severe anxiety, and dealing with a marginally cooperative airline would prove to be the simplest part of the journey. The real challenges began when we started working with the healthcare system to arrange his care.

Lining up resources, finding treatment programs, arranging an emergency knee replacement surgery, and coordinating care over the last four months have been exhausting. Thankfully, my wife is a retired nurse, and she has been leading the charge. Without her years of experience and the time she has available for managing his care, we would not be moving in the direction of a successful outcome for my cousin. And, without my cousin’s excellent health insurance, it would be a fruitless exercise in the first place. It’s no secret that if you don’t have quality health insurance, you don’t have access to our healthcare system. But that’s a blog topic for another time.

My observation as a marketer is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Where there is great difficulty there is also great opportunity. It seems to me that not enough attention is being paid to the patient experience. Lots of lip service, maybe, but not a lot of action. The most important thing a marketer of any product or service can do is to understand the perspective of the customer. There are a lot of tools at our disposal for understanding and diagnosing the customer experience, and my favorite is the customer journey map. It’s a classic tool that’s been used by marketers since the 1960s and for good reason. A well-done journey map helps frame the opportunity by precisely locating the pain points experienced by customers, or, in the case of healthcare providers, patients. I like to start the work of mapping the journey with a high-altitude question that orients the output towards an aspiration that, if achieved, would set your brand apart from the competition. That question for healthcare providers might be something like this:

What would it take to make your patients feel like your brand is the exception to the rule in healthcare?

Of course, the rule is that navigating the healthcare system is full of stress, uncertainty, and doubt. So, what would it take to flip that script 180 degrees for your brand and create an experience that is comforting, certain, and reassuring? In other words, how could you create a healthcare oasis?

Your head is likely spinning with good reasons this can’t be accomplished. No doubt, there are plenty of them. But there are significant constraints in every category, not just in healthcare. The fact is, most accept the constraints and perform somewhere along the category averages as a result. Don’t do that. Instead, start building your journey map with much higher hopes and aspirations. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process. A good journey-mapping exercise works as follows:

1. Start by identifying the multiple touchpoints a patient has with your organization.

I like to organize journey maps along the tried-and-true AIDA model. It starts with attention and follows the patient experience as they move from initial awareness to interest, desire, and action. I also include post-experience in my maps.

2. Assess the current patient experience at each one of those touchpoints.

This will likely require data collection. First-party data is ideal, but you can glean a lot of insight from third-party research and information, too. The goal is to think through the triggering events at each stage, the emotions patients are experiencing, and specific thoughts they are having as they move through the process. We’re looking for insights into specific pain points for the patient as we do this work.

3. Brainstorm ways to improve the experience at each touchpoint.

This is where the fun begins. We’ve diagnosed the problem areas, and now we’re exploring options for flipping the script. This is where we get focused on doing the things that would move our brand into the territory we’re calling a healthcare oasis. What can we do to create a sense of comfort, certainty, and reassurance at every turn?

4. Prioritize the opportunities.

If you’ve done a thorough job with the first three steps, you’ll have plenty of output to consider as you think about re-building your patient experience. Of course, you can’t do it all. This is where I like to use a tool like the 2X2 Priority Matrix to help get focused on the options that deliver the biggest bang for the buck.

5. Develop a plan to implement the highest priority opportunities.

Once you’ve identified your priority solutions, it’s time to get busy with execution. Depending on the size of your organization, this can range from simple to complex. This step will likely require collaboration with leaders and team members across the organization.

It’s not an easy task, but remember, you’re trying to create an exceptional brand. If it was easy, every brand would be exceptional.

6. Measure the results.

Often, the changes you implement because of this process will be measurable. So, be sure to measure them and use the results as a guide for constant improvement. Some gains will come quickly, and others will take more time. Stay focused on the aspiration, then tweak and adjust your plan accordingly to achieve it.

7. Repeat.

The patient journey mapping exercise is one that should be conducted annually, at least. The journey map is a living tool that informs marketing decisions at every turn. Our agency uses journey maps for all our clients to help decision processes that include everything from creative recommendations to channel choices, and much more.

Over the course of helping my cousin during the last four months, we’ve had to work with seven different healthcare providers. From detox clinics to hospitals and surgery centers and drug rehabilitation programs, we’ve covered a lot of healthcare territory. For the most part, we’ve dealt with selfless healthcare professionals who have devoted their careers and their lives to helping others. They represent some of the very best among us. But, at nearly every turn, these professionals have been hampered by systems and processes that were not designed with the benefit of a patient journey map. If you want to change the game and create a truly special brand in the healthcare space, begin and end with the goal of building a best-in-class patient experience.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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