Chris Cuchapin is proud to be one of the first faces patients and their families see when they visit MD Anderson.
As a patient services coordinator in Diagnostic Imaging, Cuchapin checks patients in at the front desk and keeps them updated on the status of their appointments while they wait.
After several of his family members were diagnosed with the disease, he joined MD Anderson to try to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients and their families. Inspired by his family's experiences, he does his best to make our patients feel welcome. You often can find him handing out warm blankets and coffee, and when he has time, strumming on his ukulele.
"I remember my family saying how they appreciated it when a hospital felt more like a home," he says. "I just want to do my best to brighten patients' days and let them know I'm here for them."
The backbone of MD Anderson
Patient services coordinators balance requests from the entire care team, patients and family members.
"They're the backbone of MD Anderson in a lot of ways," says Elizabeth Lottinger, a Human Resources consultant. "They often set the stage for what the patient experience is going to be."
Their responsibilities vary depending upon where they work at MD Anderson. Their duties can include scheduling appointments; entering doctors' orders for medications, tests and procedures; answering patients' scheduling questions submitted to our health information specialists; and responding to non-medical requests.
Often compared to jugglers and air traffic controllers, our patient services coordinators help keep the flow of a clinic or center in check while also directing our employees and our supplies where they need to be.
Scheduling appointments is far more complex than it seems, Neicy Leonard shares. A patient services coordinator in our Colorectal Center, she compares it to playing chess.
Unfortunately, there are only a certain number of hours in a day that providers can see patients. And certain scans, tests and procedures must occur in a particular sequence, often prior to a patient seeing a doctor.
"It can be a challenge sometimes," Leonard says. "You have to have a strategy and be able to prioritize requests."
To add to the complexity of scheduling, a patient's availability often depends on outside factors, like his or her work schedule, ability to find child care, transportation and insurance clearance.
"It can be a stressful and painful time," says Cynthia Barbour, who works in our Head and Neck Center. "It's important to let patients know that their care is a priority and that we'll make every effort to coordinate their appointments in an attempt to ease some of the anxiety they may be experiencing."
Barbour and our other patient services coordinators try to accommodate patients' requests for appointments, and often they give patients their direct phone numbers to be more easily accessible. They also identify opportunities that will allow patients to spend less time here, like rescheduling a morning appointment closer to an afternoon one.
"You have to try to do all you can to make it easier on the patient," Barbour says. "When patients say thank you for helping them out, that's the best feeling."
A common focus
While the roughly 600 patient services coordinators spread out among our centers and clinics have varied roles, they all share a common focus: our patients and their families.
Josh Becerra in Nursing P8 is accustomed to receiving a host of different questions from patients and family members. Whether they're looking for the cafeteria or a copy of their bloodwork, Becerra has the answers or can find someone who does.
He also enjoys listening to patients and being a sounding board.
"I've met a lot of interesting people from all over the world," he says. "From rocket scientists to ranchers, they're all just looking for somebody to talk to or provide support."
Leonard supports our patients even when they've left MD Anderson.
"I like to send Christmas cards to patients who live by themselves or periodically call to check in on ones who have been going through a hard time," she says. "I can tell that hearing from someone who cares about them lifts their spirits."
This story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.