For patients with upper gastrointenstinal cancer their care journey is a complex and overwhelming one, requiring complex diagnostic and treatment pathways. Recognizing that there was a better way to provide care for this patient population, over a year ago the decision was made to create a diagnostic assessment program and Patient Navigator role to help create a seamless, single point of contact pathway. Now, one year later that decision is showing a positive impact for both patients and staff.
“Jennifer, my Patient Navigator, contacted me right from the beginning and told me that she would be there all the way through for support and that I could contact her at any time, with any questions I might have, which was an immense relief and help to me,” says Susan, a patient who went through the EDAP, reflecting upon the impact the Patient Navigator role had on her care. “She was able to be my voice with the care team and be someone with the appropriate medical knowledge to help me when I had questions on my care. Without her help I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
The role of a Patient Navigator is to help patients with coordination of services and continuity of care, provide information and education, and to provide emotional and supportive care. Originally projected to manage around 40 patients a year, that number has turned out to triple original expectations with 115 patients referred in the first year.
For Dr. Wiley Chung, a general and thoracic surgeon, a year that included the introduction of the Patient Navigator role has made a marked difference in the focus of his work and the quality of time that he spends with patients.
Dr. Chung along with his medical secretary was previously managing the coordination for all esophageal patients. His office board was well known for showcasing the names and stages of his patients in an effort to keep track of their requirements at each stage of the care journey. Now, with the coordination of patients realigned to a Patient Navigator, he tracks his research and how treatment can be further improved for esophageal cancer patients.
“A Patient Navigator helps me to focus on research while maintaining patient care and push the envelope in terms of advancing esophageal cancer management, which ultimately impacts and improves the care that we can provide,” says Dr. Chung. “Most importantly, this helps patients feel that they’re not disconnected from a system that is so complex and can be overwhelming and allows us, the care team, to not compromise on the quality of care that we deliver.”
It also helps patients stay confident and know that they’re not alone in their symptoms and care management.
“Without a Patient Navigator, patients may have been too intimidated to pursue care or would be spending more time in the hospital from failure to cope with the treatment process. A Patient Navigator can help mitigate those situations by helping patients over the phone and reassure them that what they’re feeling is not uncommon,” says Dr. Chung. “Through conversation the Patient Navigator can ensure that our patients are following the care team’s recommendations. They can also help identify patients who are failing and arrange for a hospital admission to the appropriate service that can help them in the best way possible.”
When reflecting back on the past year and what has helped make the Patient Navigator role a success, Jennifer is quick to point to the multidisciplinary collaboration of the entire care team.
“Though I work as the single point of contact with the patients, it’s the work and relationships amongst the entire care team that enables us to deliver quality care for our patients,” says Jennifer Pereira, EDAP Patient Navigator. “This includes everyone from our registration clerks, medical secretaries and diagnostic imaging department to nursing staff, registered dietitians, social workers and physicians. Any success is a result of a true team effort.”