Working as a patient services representative at MD Anderson is a little like doing a puzzle. But there's a catch: new pieces keep appearing, some disappear, and sometimes you get handed several identical pieces.
That's what our 15 full-time and three part-time patient services representatives face each day. Their puzzle is MD Anderson's 667 inpatient beds. The pieces are patients who need to be admitted.
Behind the scenes at MD Anderson
At MD Anderson, there's a lot of collaborating and puzzle-piecing that goes on behind the scenes. It often happens before a patient ever gets here.
First, a bed has to be available. And not just any bed. If a patient requires rehab or needs specialized care and accommodations for, say, a stem cell transplant, then that patient must be assigned to a bed on a floor with specialized clinical staff and equipment.
Patient services representatives have to keep constant tabs on all the patients in the hospital and know which beds are available where. They also need to know what type of diagnosis or treatment a patient has been given so they can assign the right bed.
That's where Linda Bush's crash course in basic anatomy and physiology comes in handy. As part of the patient service representatives' eight-to-12-week training, she teaches a one-day course that covers basic anatomy, medical terminology and some of our specific surgical procedures.
"We deal with diagnoses constantly, and it makes a big difference to where the patient goes," Bush says. "Imagine coming here with no medical training, and all of a sudden you're assigning patients to floors when you don't know what their diagnoses or treatments mean."
Bush's nursing team in Admissions works closely with our patient services representatives to help make those connections and oversee final patient placement decisions.
Getting patients in the door
There are a hundred ways people become inpatients at MD Anderson. That includes scheduled services, hospital transfers and the Emergency Center. Patient services representatives are trained to understand them all and prioritize them.
They're also trained to collect and verify admission data, such as insurance information, and comply with national safety and Medicare regulations. They also ensure patient armbands are correct and properly placed. Then, they make sure there's an appropriate bed for the patient, says Laura Gonzalez. A patient services representative for more than 17 years, she's an expert on hospital transfers and helps train new employees.
For emergency admissions, patient services representatives work with Ron Walters, M.D., associate vice president for Medical Operations and Informatics, and Michael Ewer, M.D., special assistant to the vice president for Medical Affairs. Walters often receives 30 to 40 requests a day to approve emergency admissions. He says it takes a special person to deal with the competing pressures of patient needs and doctors' demands, not to mention finances and insurance.
Maria Galindo, who's been a patient services representative for more than 20 years, feels lucky to work with a group of caring, compassionate people who are determined to make a difference in the lives of patients.
"I always promise that I'll do my best, even if that means moving heaven and earth to get a patient a room," she says.
And that's the best part -- getting to the end of a shift and having every patient in a bed, receiving the best possible care. The puzzle, for that moment, is complete.
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.