Navigating Healthcare with a Patient Advocate

NavigatorThe first time I heard the term “healthcare navigator,” I intuitively knew that this was a very good concept. I was suddenly aware of similar terms: Health Navigator, Nurse Navigator, and Patient Advocate; and among associates in the imaging industry:  Breast Imaging Navigator, Women’s Imaging Nurse Navigator, and Survivorship Navigator.

Healthcare Navigator Defined

Though the title varies a bit (and I will stick with “navigator” for the purpose of this post), it is somewhat self-explanatory. I still found myself wondering exactly what the role entailed, though, and what could be expected of someone with one of these titles.  Logic told me that a person who worked as a “navigator” in the health field would probably have some kind of medical background.  I also assumed that their responsibilities would cover a wide range, possibly including patient education and orientation about a particular medical issue; maybe some administrative work related to insurance issues and appointment scheduling; and perhaps even moral support and motivation for a patient or family dealing with a difficult time as a result of a medical event.

My research confirmed that navigators do all of that, and more.  Many navigators specialize in working with seniors, or cancer patients; or, they’re experts in dealing with the complexities of medical insurance (and in this case, the navigator may not have a medical background).

One navigator I spoke with helps her clients understand their medical team and sort through the massive onslaught of information and opinions from the four or five doctors typically working on a case.  She empowers the patient to make choices and decisions in their own best interest.

“I always tell them that they are the captains of the boat, and their team of physicians, nurses, caregivers are the crew.  Coaching and empowering!!” she said.

Finding a Healthcare Navigator

Given the current healthcare environment (i.e., complex and ever-changing), healthcare navigation services are becoming more prevalent.  The Andre Center, (Denver, CO) for example, is a non-profit organization that provides patient education and other components of clinical patient navigation in the breast cancer arena. The Andre Center, a national Yoplait Champion (“Save Lids to Save Lives”) and recipient of an award from, offers a truly individualized approach.

Ask A Health Advocate also offers good guidance and resources to patients and caregivers alike.

Healthcare Navigators are part of the Medical Team

Many hospitals and medical facilities recognize the importance of choosing a good navigator, and therefore, are adding them as members of their medical staff. Lillie Shockney, R.N., M.A.S. was instrumental in the founding of the navigator program at Johns Hopkins where she is a nurse and focuses on cancer patients.  She is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and writes a blog called Breast Cancer Chronicles.

Other medical facilities such as Columbia University Medical Center in New York, the Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio, TX, employ patient advocates and healthcare navigators under a variety of titles.

QSUM attended this year’s annual NCBC conference (National Consortium of Breast Centers). One of the CE courses offered at the conference was a 6-credit Breast Patient Navigator Certification Program. NCBC reports that prior to the conference in February, 775 individuals had already attained one of the three Breast Patient Navigator Certifications.

Be a Healthcare Navigator

Every month in their newsletter, QSUM Quips, there is a list current job openings, and they regularly include postings for jobs that fall in this category. So if this is a field that you’re interested in, be sure to check this list.

If you have worked with a healthcare navigator, or are a healthcare navigator yourself, please leave a comment below, and share a few words about your own experience.

Photo Credit: Matti Mattila


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Call-Back and Mammogram Rescreening

Urgent, but no reason for panicGetting a mammogram is not usually high on a woman’s list of favorite things to do, but having it done-and-over-with provides peace of mind that is invaluable.  That is, of course, unless you are called back for a re-screening.  Right up front I’ll tell you that a “call-back” is not cause for panic. That said, however, if you receive a recall notice, it is of utmost importance to follow up with a second screening.

How often recalls happen

Studies show that there is a 1 in 10 chance of being called back after a screening mammogram.  The second procedure, a diagnostic mammogram, takes a little longer because more images are captured, but the overall experience is basically the same.  Knowing what to expect, however, can make it all less stressful. Continue reading

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Breast Density – A Primer

The issue of breast density seems to be coming up regularly these days, so I thought it would be helpful to have a primer of sorts that explains why we’re hearing so much about this topic lately.  This explanation is based on some very basic questions and answers – suitable for sharing with all women.

Why the big fuss about breast density?

Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography screening to detect cancer.  There are indicators that women with dense breasts are at a higher risk for breast cancer.  Depending on the information source, a woman can be three times to six times more likely to develop cancer if she has dense breasts.

In addition, it is also more difficult to detect cancer in dense breast tissue, particularly with mammography.  This is one reason why it is becoming more important for a woman to know whether or not she has dense breasts. Continue reading

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Breast self-exam only takes just a couple of minutes and can potentially save your life. This is Breast cancer awareness month and if you don’t presently do (BSE) then this is the month to start!!! I believe BSE is extremely important for those individuals under the age of 40 as they are not in the “screening” program yet. Women and their husbands are the best detectors in the age bracket of 40 and below. I’m not saying that if you are 40 or older that you shouldn’t do this even though you get your mammogram yearly. Every woman should do this starting when girls become women. I have seen a young woman 18 years old find a cancerous lump through BSE. The smaller the lump is the better chance you have of beating the disease.

When performing BSE pick the same time of month if possible if you are post-menopausal and preferably one or two days after your period stops for pre-menopausal women. A complete BSE comprises a visual look in the mirror with your arms raised up to look for any dimpling or redness, anything unusual that you’ve never noticed before.
Then do the second part by feeling the breasts either lying down, utilizing lotion or in the shower using soap. See for the proper way to do breast self-exam.
If you find a lump or area of concern notify your physician immediately. The sooner you find a breast cancer the better chance you have of beating it!! Remember 80% of breast lumps are benign. It’s better to find out right away and not procrastinate!

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Life: Setbacks and Loss

Sorry I haven’t been blogging for a couple of months. I’ve had a few setbacks in my life that have distracted me. My mother passed away the end of April. I know every person has lost or will lose a person very near and dear to their heart. My mom and I didn’t always see eye to eye throughout the years and many of my mother’s choices were based around the circumstances at that time. How I perceived her choices from a child’s eye and as an adult were very different.

I know our experiences in life give us perspective on how those choices were made and help us understand why our parents made those choices.  When someone has lived a long life you always expect it to be easier to accept death; and in some respects it is easier. I thought I had prepared myself for that day, but when it happened I found that I wasn’t prepared at all….. I had lost my best friend, confidant and most of all, my mother… I know time heals as they say, but I had so many great years with her, it hurt just as bad if not
worse than losing my brother tragically at a very young age of 34.

I haven’t lost anyone to breast cancer, but I have just felt the full realm of people dying old and young. I believe I can truly empathize withfamilies who have lost loved ones to this horrible disease leaving young and older children. You can see how the medical costs and stress can ruin families, relationships and the individuals going through it.

I have been in the Breast Care Industry for over 30 years and have watched people
go through all of this. I believe I helped many get through this, but I have to say I think I just now “got it”.

I guess I just want to tell all of you how sorry I am for all of your losses and it is truly heartfelt!!! I take with me wonderful memories of someone I loved so much and words will never express how much she will be missed!!!


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Lucky? A Matter of Perspective on Breast Cancer

As a child at least up to the age of five, I had a picture perfect life. I grew up in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. I had two brothers, a sister, donkeys, a dog, rabbits, and of course we always got to play with the salamanders. Now I call that “Lucky”. Then one late afternoon my whole world changed and I became known to others as that “poor child”, you know the one who just lost her dad in that terrible explosion! Oh that “poor family”! Those “poor kids”! As I kept hearing that from everyone around me I began to feel like that “poor child”. Your external influences good or bad will sooner or later become you. I have to say that explosion that killed my father marked me for the rest of my life. Even to this day. However as “Luck” would have it, I had an Aunt that was coming over for dinner that day and saw the whole accident happen. We were so “lucky” that people were up where we lived as it was an area that had only “weekend” cabins, except for us. Our nearest full-time neighbor was around 3 miles away. My aunt raced down to one of the other close cabins and they came with their car and picked all of us kids up and drove to the closest place, which was 35 miles away. There we were all carried into our doctor’s office. I couldn’t see as I took the explosion in my eyes and I was blinded by all the sandblasting. All I heard walking into the clinic were gasps and “oh my god what happened”! This wonderful Dr. picked the sand out of my eyes and one of my brother’s eyes, then bandaged them up. Then he sewed up my sister and other brother. Wow how quickly our lives can change! In a matter of two weeks I went from having the absolute best life to the absolute worst life ever.

Looking at this tragic event now, I realize just how “Lucky” I am. One to be alive, another that I could still see, and then just fortunate that the neighbors were up for the weekend and could help us. I didn’t think this was lucky at all for many, many years. What I saw, or my perspective, was I lost the most important person in my life.

As I’ve grown up and lived through so many traumatic times, I have come to realize that your life will be as happy as you perceive it to be. 

There might be a day that you go get your mammogram and within a day or week your life will completely change! How do you deal with that? It’s up to you! My suggestion is choose to live, make a difference and help others! Think of your wonderful family, friends and strangers that will help you and you will help them! In my profession I have seen many, many patients have to deal with this scenario. I have learned so much from them. They are strong! I hope if you ever are in this situation that you too will choose a positive outcome, but then again, it’s just a matter of your perspective………

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Do Dogs Get Breast Cancer?

I have a very dear dog and I often wonder if animals get the same illnesses that we do.  Noting that my entire life has been education oriented I wondered if dogs get breast cancer.  With my curiosity going I hit the internet and this is what I found..

In those females spayed prior to their first heat cycle, mammary cancer is very, very rare. The risk of malignant mammary tumors in dogs spayed prior to their first heat is 0.05%. It is 8% for dog spayed after one heat, and 26% in dogs spayed after their second heat. It is believed that the elimination or reduction of certain hormonal factors causes the lowering of incidence of the disease in dogs that have been spayed.

There are multiple types of mammary cancers in dogs. Approximately one-half of all mammary tumors in dogs are benign, and half are malignant. All mammary tumors should be identified through a biopsy and histopathology (microscopic examination of the tissue) to help in developing the treatment plan for that particular type of cancer.

The most common benign form of canine mammary tumors is actually a mixture of several different types of cells. For a single tumor to possess more than one kind of cancerous cell is actually rare in many species. This combination cancer in the dog is called a ‘benign mixed mammary tumor’ and contains glandular and connective tissue. Other benign tumors include complex adenomas, fibroadenomas, duct papillomas, and simple adenomas.

The malignant mammary tumors include: tubular adenocarcinomas, papillary adenocarcinomas, papillary cystic adenocarcinomas, solid carcinomas, anaplastic carcinomas, osteosarcomas, fibrosarcomas, and malignant mixed tumors.

Mammary tumors are observed as a solid mass or as multiple swellings. When tumors do arise in the mammary tissue, they are usually easy to detect by gently palpating the mammary glands. When tumors first appear they will feel like small pieces of pea gravel just under the skin. They are very hard and are difficult to move around under the skin. They can grow rapidly in a short period of time, doubling their size every month or so.

If you would like to know more about this I thought this had the best education info on this subject.

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Deb Doll…little things can mean the most!

I know it’s been awhile since the last blog however, I was getting ready for the NCBC (National Consortium of Breast Centers) show in which we are a vendor. I talk about this because I am a licensed Mammographer and this is by far the best educational show out there. We have been part of this show for 4 years now and every year we try to make it a little better either by bringing out a new product or figuring out something that will give us an edge. This year we totally out did ourselves!

Introducing the Deb Doll

Our OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) wanted to show their support of our company (QSUM) by giving us a collector doll as a giveaway! Now this was no ordinary doll, this was a DEB DOLL! The Deb Doll was made after the company was asked by a hospital to produce pink gloves and I don’t know exactly the whole story but somehow the idea was born of the PINK GLOVE DANCE! It hit YouTube and became a huge sensation!

Deb was the star in the video and so the Deb Doll was born (Barbie with a pink OR (operating room) hairnet, pink gloves, pink eye glasses, etc. They gave us 30 to give away, so we came up with a great promo ad in the newsletter prior to the show and hoped for the best!

Opening day arrives and we immediately have some people come to our booth with the entry in hand! Every day there were more and more women that came for the drawing. Our Deb Doll was the hit of the show!!! These women wanted them for friends with breast cancer,  granddaughters, children, themselves, others… was amazing!! People even wanted to bribe us for these! We were amazed!

Such a small thing made such a huge difference for us. Now the funny thing is there were at least two other vendors offering IPADS that didn’t get near the attention as our Deb Doll… All I can say is, “eat your heart out Steve Jobs!” I won this time…..

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Pink Glove Dance

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QSUM INV4C-1 MRI Breast Coil Cover

Posted in Breast Biopsy, Demonstrations, Instructions, Medical Draping, MRI, MRI Breast Coil Draping | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments