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


About Debi Davis

Debi Davis is the owner of 3D Communications - She helps businesses learn to use social media as a business tool.
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