HBI Deals+Insights / White Paper

Interview: Christina Triantafyllou, head of improving patient experience, Siemens Healthineers

As patients are becoming increasingly savvy and well-informed healthcare consumers, the focus on patient experience has never been stronger, and the ongoing pandemic put this into even sharper focus. HBI catches up with Dr Christina Triantafyllou, Siemens Healthineers’ head of improving patient experience, to find out more.

Want to know more on this subject? Click here to go to Siemens Healthineers insights page, and here to link to white papers on patient experience. Christina Triantafyllou is moderating the Patient Experience panel at HBI 2022. You can read more about that here. 

HBI: Is there a set definition for ‘patient experience’? What do you see as its remit?

Christina Triantafyllou: It’s the sum of all interactions with the healthcare sector that influence the patient perception across the continuum of care, starting with engagement before they become a patient, through to diagnostic, continuing to therapeutic, treatment and outcomes, including preventive and follow up care

HBI: And why does it matter?

Christina Triantafyllou: 76% of patients consider the reputation of a healthcare system before they decide in favour to engage them. Patient experience is always there whether it’s being improved or not. And the voice of the patient is becoming increasingly important. The patient is becoming increasingly a healthcare consumer with changing expectations and demands. There is a generational issue nowadays. Digital natives and millennials prefer a personalised experience and are focused on convenience and immediate access, and as patients are increasingly paying out of pocket they care more about the  experience  In short – poor patient experience negatively impacts revenue, the sustainability of healthcare sector, as well as the cost of care.

Convenience, easy access, the human connection – these are all becoming increasingly important.

HBI: How did the pandemic change things?

Christina Triantafyllou: The pandemic brought new factors into the patient experience. Trust between patients and healthcare providers is a big issue which wasn’t there before in the same way. Patient experience used to be about the quality and comfort of waiting rooms and onsite experience. During the pandemic, the focus shifted. People didn’t want to go to waiting rooms, however nice. Safety mattered. Telehealth and virtual care was more utilised. Limited access to care was clearly made evident. It led to rapid changes in the patient experience reality and expectations for access to a seamless holistic experience – onsite and online.

I also want to add that a lot of the physical and mental resilience of healthcare staff was affected during the pandemic. There have been a lot of resignations. Improving the wellbeing of healthcare professionals is also hugely important.

HBI: So what are patients really looking for?

Christina Triantafyllou: Patients are looking for health, access to care, convenience, simplicity, and human care. 

What we have learned about patient experience over the past three years is that the elements that go into creating a positive patient experience have become much more specific and they take into account the digital ecosystem in which healthcare currently takes place. More than 70 percent want equality of access to care regardless of health, wealth, or digital capability.

Today, more than 90 percent want easy access to services, technology and experts in their diagnosis, including: virtual visits, easier online appointment booking and being able to consult with physicians remotely via devices, as well as timely and understandable communication of diagnosis. When evaluating outcomes that matter to patients and families, three years ago, they wanted to see coordination of care during and in between encounters. Today, more than 90 percent want a complete and comprehensible picture of their data, fully integrated, in order to facilitate joint decision-making in the treatment path. More than 70 percent want their health needs – physical, mental and emotional – resolved in a measurable manner and noted in patient-reported outcome scores. 

Take the diagnostic experience. We conducted a survey and asked diagnostic patients what were the most important factors – asking about things like technology, processes, waiting times, the relationship with the healthcare team, and more than 95% said it’s how they interacted with the team. What’s most important to the patient is that they are treated with respect, empathy and that what is going to happen is explained to them. There’s a lot of anxiety and stress about procedures. It’s about communication. Things like explaining any delays This is what patients need.

A lot of us thought how comfortable the technology is would be more important – take how claustrophobic some patients might find an MRI. But it wasn’t. 

In the therapeutic experience, patients are looking for continuous support – onsite and online – which should result in positive patient-reported outcomes too.

HBI: How do you reliably measure patient experience?

Christina Triantafyllou: There are many different ways. One tangible way is loyalty. If patients are happy with how they are treated – including from a human perspective – they are more likely to return.

We also have patient reported experience surveys, patient reported outcomes, patient and family engagement groups and advisory groups, empathy scores. Less advanced measurements include net promoter scores, how many complaints are being received and operational efficiency measurements like waiting times, time taken to schedule an appointment, and the time from appointment to treatment. It is important to add to these measurements the operational and efficiency measurements, for example, time-to-treatment or waiting time, and to make sure it is measured from an institutional to a departmental, or even individual practice level.

HBI: And what about the data? There’s no point of comparison between organisations is there? You can only benchmark against yourself?

Christina Triantafyllou: Actually, a lot of organisations publish this data themselves. In the US a lot of these evaluations are advertised on the hospital web pages. Choice, marketing, social media, online reviews, online complaints – these are changing the market. This is the era we are living in now. It’s open. You can’t hide. It is also powerful to have internal comparison of the different services. Because some departments in the institutions may be lagging behind compared to others and therefore if only one general scoring is used it is not reflecting the reality of the various patient touchpoints.

HBI: And what of the cost? Training staff to be empathetic, digital platforms to enable online bookings, telehealth access, information sharing systems… It’s expensive, isn’t it? How do you get companies to buy into this? How do you sell the concept?

Christina Triantafyllou: Leaders in patient experience can’t afford not to. From an investment perspective, it’s essential and will pay off in the future. As patients become consumers they look for easy access, convenience and simplicity as they do in other areas of their lives – just look at how they shop on Amazon and how they streamline their entertainment. They expect this to happen in healthcare too, especially the younger generation. It’s the investment healthcare providers need to make to remain sustainable. And it’s only going to become more important as the current younger generation become more frequent patients.

HBI: Can you give us a practical example of the kind of work you do?

Christina Triantafyllou: For example, we evaluated the whole patient journey in the cardiology department at the third largest healthcare provider in Portugal, Luciadas, and redesigned the care pathway strategies to achieve an improved patient experience. Areas of research included the organisation’s strategic positioning, processes, staff and patient surveys, workflow analysis, key performance indicator measurements, and the evaluation and implementation of improvement measures. In addition and crucially, the project included staff training and empowerment.

This initiative allowed co-creation between patients and healthcare professionals from clinic and hospital, and ultimately improved humanisation of the facilities, enhanced scheduling, optimised check-in and check-out, increased accessibility to digital tools, and made the signage at the hospital clearer. Selected staff received training and orientation to improve patient communication, leading to reduced wait times and an improved patient experience overall.

And we did this together, we believe in partnerships to improve patient and care team experience

HBI: How do you train people to be empathetic if, say, they’ve been doing the job 30 years?

Christina Triantafyllou: That’s a good question. Stepping into the shoes of the patient has proven to be key to raising awareness. There are also specific training sessions. If you look at the machine operators, sometimes we know technology can be overwhelming and training can be an issue, so if we operate the remote scanner, say, staff can then focus on the patient. When you remove stress from the operator it lets them focus on the patient. We also have empathy training – you can be trained to speak to patients the right way.

HBI: And the risk if you don’t invest in the patient experience?

Christina Triantafyllou: In today’s healthcare, there’s competition everywhere! In addition, patient experience is strongly linked with healthcare’s professionals experience. Burnout, disengagement, and staff desertion implies very high costs for a healthcare institution – recruitment, onboarding, training – and the human element is key. Patients will always need to some extent human support to be healthy.  

HBI: What does the future patient experience look like?

Christina Triantafyllou: Our vision of the future of Patient experience is a frictionless patient experience. You need to look at all the points of friction – in scheduling, a lack of human connection, complex operational and financial transactions etc, and  transform these points  to be patient centred healthcare  consumer driven and human inspired. A frictionless care experience is as a three dimensional puzzle concept between the patient experience, the consumer experience, and the human experience. That’s what we’re looking to solve – we jointly – healthcare providers, industry, insurances, health investors –  need to aim for.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Kirsty Withams or call 0207 183 3779.