Each day, HUP’s patient transport team — which comprises about 70 full and part time employees — completes an average of 575 trips… that’s 210,000 trips every year! This includes moving inpatients, outpatients, and Emergency Room patients to various areas throughout HUP’s campus, such as treatment areas, testing sites, and clinical practices.

But much more is involved than merely going from point A to point B. Transporters are an integral part of patient care and the patient experience.

Here’s what you should know.

Always on the Move

Patient transport, pushing stretcher on bridgeAll those trips add up. During a single eight-hour shift, transporters can cover from 7 to 10 miles! “Our team is virtually everywhere,” said Peter Fratini, director of Patient Transport. “We handle inpatients, outpatients, and visitors within HUP West, the Perelman Center, the Medical Campus, and even patients requiring a visit to CHOP. Some of our trips span several city blocks and can be physically demanding.”

The majority of HUP’s transporters — 75 percent — are telemetry and EMT certified. This means they can monitor a patient’s cardiac rhythms and vital signs during the trip, allowing a nurse to stay at the bedside when the patient travels off the unit. On a frequent basis, telemetry transporters remain with patients who require continuous monitoring while they undergo a test or treatment.

Patient Transport is also required to respond to all clinical emergencies — whether it’s running a crash cart or stretcher… or even to start compressions before the Rapid Response team arrives. Transporter Rich Watson recalled getting a patient ready for transport on a unit a few years back when the patient suddenly coded. He immediately began CPR and continued to do so (alternating with a doctor) as the patient was quickly pushed through the hospital to the catheter lab for emergency surgery. The patient survived.

“Our telemetry team is extremely well versed in their craft and we are very proud of their clinical contribution to patient care here at HUP,” Fratini said.

They also handle the majority of discharge requests, bringing patients down to the Ravdin or Perelman Center lobby. These moves are critical in terms of patient flow, said dispatcher Horace Hubbard. “Transporting the patient out of the room triggers Admissions that another bed is open,” he said. The pressure to keep this process moving is especially high at the end of a week and right before a holiday.

Elsie Wright is an essential cog in this process. A member of Patient Transport, she is stationed in the Ravdin lobby between 11 am and 7:30 pm, keeping a close eye on patients until they depart with their rides. This allows the transporter to get back “on the road,” responding to another request.

Overcoming Daily Hurdles

Horace Hubbard, dispatcher, Patient TransportTransporters are up against a number of hurdles in their daily “rounds” which impacts their ability to quickly pick up and deliver a patient to a destination. These can include long waits for elevators, obtaining the required equipment, or the need to wait for patients who aren’t ready to leave the floor.

The team utilizes the EPIC Rover application via iPhones to update their status as they progress through each trip. This reflects in real time to Penn Chart so that other members of the patient’s care team throughout the facility can track a patient’s progress or physical location. Transporters will notate when they arrive at a location for pick-up and when they’re en route and then arrive at the destination. This allows dispatchers to follow the lifeline of each trip. They can also note cancellations, postponements and delays on floors. “We can’t see what’s out there from the desk so we rely on their accountability,” Hubbard said. “It all impacts the flow.” Rapid response calls impact flow as well; if necessary, a transporter on their way to pick up a patient might be sent to a code call instead.

“We also rely on our amazing partners in Nursing, Radiology, Patient & Guest Relations, EVS, Materials Management, Volunteer Services, and Security,” Fratini said, to help maintain an efficient flow of patients.

Not surprisingly, keeping the flow of patients running smoothly at a busy medical center is not easy, especially during the hospital’s peak activity time between 11 am and 5 pm. As one of two dispatchers on second shift — from 3 pm to 11:30 pm — Hubbard comes on during what he calls “the middle of chaos!”

In addition to coordinating transport requests and keeping track of potential issues via Penn Chart, dispatchers answer phone calls throughout the day, ranging from a frustrated “Where is transport!?” to “My patient lost his phone during a transport. Can you find it?” Remaining calm and being patient is key, Hubbard said. “I try and put myself in everyone’s shoes. We all have a job to do.

“If people are frustrated, I know it’s not me, it’s challenge at hand,” he said. “I de-escalate their anger and help them through so I can get on to the next call.

“One call, one patient, at a time.”

Forming Strong Emotional Bonds with Patients

Patient transport is also a form of caregiving in which both spiritual and emotional bonds develop. The trips, which can be long, “provide us with an excellent opportunity for one-on-one time with the patients,” Fratini said. “Our team certainly makes the most of it by taking the patient’s mind off of their illness and easing any anxiety prior to testing or treatment.”

This is especially true for patients who must remain in the hospital for weeks or even months, being brought to daily treatments, such as radiation or dialysis, by the same transporter. “You make an impression on them and vice versa,” said Watson, who is stationed in Radiation Oncology. “Sometimes they have no family in the area — we become a comfort. We are someone to talk to, from sports to food to religion. That becomes a form of medicine.”

While some patients “go with the flow,” he said, others are understandably scared. “We have to be that sense of security for them. ‘I got you, I’m here,’ I tell them,” he said. This has been especially true during COVID-19, when at times patients were not allowed to have visitors.

The closeness extends to a patient’s family as well. “If you show you care — your compassion — that goes a long way. Families know their loved one is in good hands,” Watson said. One family still keeps in touch with him. “They’ve invited me to their house and told me ‘we consider you family.’”

As Watson noted in “Back and Forth,” the story he told through Penn Medicine’s Listening Lab, “We are the extension of the doctors and the nurses once they leave that floor. These patients essentially become family members because they’re here all the time, and we see them every day.

“I've touched so many people’s lives. And honestly, a lot of the patients have touched my life.”

Penn Medicine Listening Lab

The Penn Medicine Listening Lab, an online storytelling initiative, embraces the simple act of listening as a form of care. Listen to Watson's full story and many others at https://pennlisteninglab.org/stories/

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