Mamma Mia! How to Manage Complex Patient Experiences in Maternity

Focus on Carmen MARTENS’ research. Carmen is a Ph.D. candidate at HEC Liège. She holds a master degree in architecture.

As healthcare services are technically and emotionally complex, hospitals are examining ways to improve patient experience in various ways. In light of this broad issue, my doctoral research, together with Cécile Delcourt (Strategic Marketing Innovation, HEC Liège) and Ann Petermans (Designing for More, Hasselt University), focuses on analyzing the customer experience of healthcare users, more specifically, the experience of (soon-to-be) mothers at maternity departments.

In this respect, the first study focuses on a challenging task: mapping the patient journey (see fig. 1). This task is particularly complex in maternity departments, as the journey of (soon-to-be) mothers is multifaceted. Fostering a smooth patient journey can lead to favorable outcomes for both the mother and her family but also for the hospital. By applying a service design lens, we conducted in-depth interviews with mothers who delivered a baby at a public hospital. The findings of this study provide insight into the patient journey from the mother’s point of view to uncover critical and complex touchpoints and their antecedents throughout the journey. By highlighting those touchpoints in the patient journey, hospitals are informed on and can closely monitor “moments-of-truth” affecting patient experiences. Despite growing digitalization of and dehumanization in (medical) services, our findings show that real human interactions are key in providing a superior service. In addition, the results show that the healthscape plays an integral role in supporting interactions between patient and service provider; and patients in achieving their personal goals. This is where designers and managers of public healthcare organizations should team up and collaborate in order to consciously allocate financial and human resources to innovate and deliver enhanced touchpoints along the patient journey.


Figure 1. Patient journey map: Visualizing critical incidents per touchpoint.


In the second paper, we examine how improving customer experience in a hospital context through the creation of customer intimacy can contribute to positive outcomes for both customer and service provider. Analyzing intimacy within a hospital (i.e., maternity wards) provides an extreme service context where the intimacy of (soon-to-be) mothers (and their families) is often under stress as ‘the customer’ here is constantly exposed to intimate situations. Understanding and managing customer intimacy during service experiences is an important area of inquiry because it influences short-term (e.g. cognitive, emotional and physiological responses) and long-term (e.g. customer well-being, repurchase intentions, word-of-mouth) actions and behaviors. Through a multidisciplinary literature review and in-depth interviews with mothers and medical employees (i.e. midwives and gynecologists), we propose a conceptualization and a theoretical framework (see fig. 2) on short-term and long-term outcomes of customer intimacy together with an overview of the (in)tangible antecedents of customer intimacy.

On a personal note, as a Ph.D. candidate with a master degree in architecture, I am driven to work on this project, that finds itself on the intersection of management and architecture. I do not see myself working as a typical architect, but I do believe that architects can have a significant role to play within different sectors and contexts. In addition, working on this project together with two incredible promotors (and mothers!) really fascinates me and makes it fun to work on every day!

Figure 2. Conceptual Framework Customer Intimacy


                                                          Carmen MARTENS, Ph.D. candidate, HEC Liège