The medical field has been brimming with new technologies and procedures to better the healthcare system and its services.
With a pandemic and a new coronavirus variant, the healthcare system must up its game in innovating its processes to battle these novel threats.
However, not everyone welcomes these health-related changes with open arms. Many people, may view these modifications as another barrier that prevents them from accessing quality healthcare.
Luckily, the system now employs a healthcare professional to guide struggling patients through the healthcare continuum. They are known as healthcare navigators or a patient healthcare navigator.
If you are curious about what a patient navigator is or want to be one in the future, then head down below to read an in-depth discussion about this unique individual in the medical field.
What Is a Healthcare Navigator?
The term “patient healthcare navigator” has sprung up for about four years now, but not many people know how important they can be in a patient’s healthcare journey.
From the term itself, a healthcare navigator refers to a skilled person whose duty is to help patients (employees, employers) navigate the complex healthcare system.
Navigators have an excellent understanding of the processes done in a healthcare setting. Thus, allowing them to guide patients through their healthcare journey--from their initial screening procedure up to their follow-up appointments.
Patient navigators also have a broad grasp of the healthcare needs in the community they serve, enabling them to help people overcome specific barriers to accessing quality health care.
You can usually spot a healthcare navigator working in any healthcare delivery systems or agencies like:
- Private-owned health clinics
- Community or federal health centers
- Integrated healthcare systems (e.g., hospice, hospitals offering continuing care)
- School-based clinic
- Public health agencies
- Health payers (e.g., insurance companies, government medical programs)
There are usually two kinds of healthcare navigators depending on where they are employed--one working in a clinical setting and one rendering its services in the health payer environment.
Healthcare Navigator in the Clinical Space
Navigators in the clinical or hospital set-up can be uncommon since the role of a healthcare navigator usually falls on nurses or doctors. But for hospitals with a navigator, their essential functions are as follows:
- Guiding patients with their health-related needs, i.e., from the moment they get screened or diagnosed to their treatment and succeeding check-ups.
- Helping patients understand their disease, their treatment options, and how these treatments can help them get better.
- Helping them apply for health insurance and get the best package suitable for their needs.
- Become a source of positivity and emotional support.
- Act as a middle man to the patient and their healthcare provider.
- Remove health disparities in the system.
Other lay healthcare navigators can also render non-medical related services to people in need of healthcare attention. This includes childcare, caregiving needs, transportation, or help with necessary activities.
Healthcare Navigator in the Health Payer’s Space
Health navigation services have been a massive part of the health payer space, which is a third-party organization that shoulders some of an individual’s healthcare services costs through reimbursement, refund, or insurance policies.
A navigator’s role in this set-up includes:
- Guiding employers, companies, and beneficiaries in looking for the best medical coverage plan or package.
- Explaining the medical terms and procedures included in their chosen plan.
- Helping them fill-up applications, eligibility, and enrollment forms.
- Look for an affordable insurance program suitable for the consumers or refer them to consumer assistance programs.
- Raise awareness regarding the importance of getting insurance and/or medical coverage.
Who Can Become a Healthcare Navigator?
Anyone with a heart for helping people can pursue a career as a healthcare navigator regardless of professional degrees and educational backgrounds. You just have to receive specific training regarding patient navigation to gather everything you need to know about the job.
Today, some organizations are working towards the advancement of patient navigation. They aim to give advanced training and national certification to healthcare navigators to provide consistent quality services to patients.
How Important Are Healthcare Navigators in the System?
Getting diagnosed with a disease you know nothing about can leave you feeling anxious, scared, and overwhelmed.
Different kinds of questions will start to arise, like: “What type of doctor do I need to go to? Do I need to do the procedure a doctor tells me to do? If so, does my insurance cover it? Do I need to get a second opinion?” The list just goes on and on.
Questions start to pile up, and answers are nowhere to be found. You will either rely on Google’s search results or listen to what your sister’s friend’s cousin’s dad says since they said he also experienced the same illness you have.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the complex healthcare system alone. You can have a skilled and compassionate healthcare navigator to look after you when things get confusing and unbearable.
Moreover, patient navigation benefits not only the patients and consumers but also the healthcare system itself. Here are some of the many advantages of patient navigation:
- Help people become better consumers of healthcare.Having a navigator by their side helps patients make better healthcare decisions, whether it is choosing an acceptable insurance policy or deciding on a better treatment option.
- Bringing back people’s trust in the healthcare system.Some social minority groups in society have had many bad experiences in the system. But with a healthcare navigator, there’s an assurance that equal privileges and treatment will be given to everyone, regardless of race, gender, social status, and disability.
- Improving healthcare delivery and services.Local or community-based navigators know and fully understand what their community needs. This allows them to let healthcare providers know what kind of resources and health services patients need.
- Establishing efficient communication between patients and their healthcare providers. Healthcare navigators act as a liaison to patients and providers. They can guide patients in the complex maze that is the healthcare system while also helping healthcare providers communicate better with individuals.