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The Power of Patient Navigation

By Megan Harkey, Division Vice President, Texas Health Network


November 15, 2022 Posted in: Leadership
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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, you understand how important it is to have an experienced, supportive care team. Getting a treatment plan tailored to your need’s means selecting the right doctors and support staff. That might sound obvious at first, but many patients soon realize that with so many factors to consider, the task can be challenging without help.

Patient Navigators Are Here for You

Patient navigators are specially trained professionals who help patients meet their treatment goals and provide support throughout their journey. Navigators can reduce barriers to health care and increase access to necessary resources. Research shows when hospital systems offer patient navigation programs, patient care and satisfaction improve. 

Patient navigators work with those who have chronic illnesses such as HIV, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and cancer. A navigator may be a social worker, nurse, or other health care worker with additional training. For some, being a patient navigator is their only role.

Skilled and compassionate, patient navigators are readily available to provide comprehensive support and guidance throughout your treatment journey. Similar to how patient advocates are always nearby to help make your hospital stay more comfortable, patient navigators are dependable resources you can count on to find quality care at every stage.

The History of Patient Navigation 

In 1899, the writer and essayist W.E.B. DuBois was one of the first people to talk publicly about the difficulties many Americans face when trying to access health care. DuBois suggested the following factors were likely to determine access to health care:

  • Education

  • Employment status

  • Socioeconomic status
     

Basically, the less education and money a person has, the more difficult it can be to access care. Despite several positive strides made over the years, health disparities still exist, and many people still struggle to the get the care they need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health disparities as “preventable differences” in the ability of certain populations to access and receive medical care.

However, you don’t need to be a member of a “disadvantaged group” to experience disparities in the health care system. Social scientists are still trying to understand why and how health disparities occur but suggest biological, psychological, and sociological factors may play a role. They believe a person’s genetic, mental, and environmental influences impact how easy (or hard) it is to get medical care. 

Patient navigation programs were created in response to these issues. Patient navigators identify the barriers patients face and help connect them to the medical—and sometimes social and financial—resources they need, whether that’s health insurance, transportation to appointments, or a translation service. 

Patient Navigation Works

Research on the benefits of patient navigation is ongoing, but research to date has shown that navigation can lead to factors, including:

  • Better diversity and cultural competency among staff and hospitals

  • Fewer cancer diagnoses in racial minority groups

  • Fewer annual deaths from cancer

  • Increased access to doctors and hospitals/clinics

  • Increased health screenings and earlier detection of disease

  • More patients with health insurance

  • More trust between patients and their doctors and hospitals 

What Else Can a Personal Navigator Do? 

Working with a patient navigator certainly helps make it easier to access care, but they also provide mental and emotional support, and other resources throughout the treatment process. It’s like having your own personal advocate to help get the treatment you want and need. 

A patient navigator can:

  • Arrange transportation to and from appointments

  • Explain what is said by doctors and support staff related to ongoing or preventive treatment

  • Find childcare or senior services

  • Locate a support group or mental health provider

  • Provide translation services

  • Support patients experiencing anxiety or depression 


Patient navigation services are available via virtual visits on a computer or tablet, over the phone, or in-person at the hospital or clinic. 

A Solid Source of Support

It can feel isolating when you struggle to get the care you need or you don’t feel your providers understand you. Without the right support, some patients even stop trying, but having a patient navigator means you don’t have to give up. 

The American Medical Association reports 65% of people feel happier with their medical care when their physician understands their feelings. Patient navigators are there to amplify your voice, so your doctor knows your concerns and goals for treatment and you know what you need to do after leaving each appointment. 

They also build trusting relationships with you and your family throughout your treatment journey and make a point of understanding your culture and community. 

So go ahead and lean on your patient navigator—because you shouldn’t shoulder the logistics and emotions of a diagnosis and treatment by yourself.

 




Ready to find a supportive care team? Find a doctor at St. Luke’s Health. 

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