​"It doesn't matter what the conversation is, to me what matters is that for those 15 or so minutes of walking they are no longer focused on their appointment," says Hernan Gonzales, a porter at Toronto Rehab, University Centre. (Photo: UHN)

​By the end of each workday, Hernan Gonzales, a porter at Toronto Rehab, University Centre, will have walked an average of 10,000 to 15,000 steps caring for patients.

Members of the Transportation team but better known as porters, Hernan and more than 200 colleagues are responsible for getting patients, medical equipment and supplies to different areas of UHN.

Porters typically move patients by wheelchair or hospital bed, ensuring they arrive safely at appointments in different units and clinics, or in the operating area.

But they do more than transport – they are a critical part of a patient's experience by creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere throughout the journey.

"There is a sense of vulnerability for patients when they are being taken by us to an appointment," Hernan says. "Our goal is to try to minimize their uneasiness through different techniques such as conversation."

Porter to patient care

Toronto Rehab partners with other UHN sites to provide patients rehabilitating from an injury or illness with tests and treatments. In these instances, at University Centre, a porter will take the patient through the underground tunnel services that connect Toronto Rehab to Princess Margret Cancer Centre and Toronto General Hospital.

Going these distances can be harder on patients who are anxious, making patient-to-porter connections even more important.

Hernan says he tries to meet each patient with a simple introduction to outline their plan.

“I like to explain who I am and exactly where we are going, so the patient is prepared for the journey we will take, and to create a sense of trust," says Hernan.

Porters are also focused on the well-being of patients. Hernan says they often underestimate the distance to an appointment and ask to walk, sometimes getting frustrated when Hernan suggests bringing a wheelchair just in case.

"In most cases, when we get to the destination, they thank me for suggesting the wheelchair," he says. "No matter the situation, I always remain calm and try to be as supportive as possible because their care and safety is what is important to me."

More than a process

During the journey, a patient may open up by asking questions. If Hernan finds they are quieter, he will try to start up a conversation by telling them more about the part of the hospital they're going through or asking where they're from.

"From there, you can find out so many other things about a patient," Hernan says. "Maybe they are an artist or love to cook or have a dog.

"It doesn't matter what the conversation is, to me what matters is that for those 15 or so minutes of walking they are no longer focused on their appointment."

Overall, porters strive to make a patient's experience as seamless as possible through the care continuum, providing quality care every step of the way.

Porters are leveraging UHN's new health information system from Epic. This system alerts a porter when a patient needs to be picked up and where they are located, replacing the previous process of pages and phone voicemails.

Epic also allows the porter to communicate with the appointment organizer if the patient is taking longer to be brought to the destination. After a patient is dropped off, a porter will mark it in the system through their portable device, and a new job is made available.

It's another example of how across UHN the power of technology is being harnessed to ensure the flow of information between teams is accurate and provides staff with the necessary tools to enhance patient experience.

Even after working for 33 years in hospital settings, for porters such as Hernan, the job is more than a process, it is about the person.

"No patient wants to be in a hospital setting," he says. "But if I can make their day better, even if it is a quick five-minute conversation, I feel like I positively contributed to their experience at UHN."

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