Patient Navigators: How They Can Help Improve Health

As our healthcare system evolves to one that is more patient-directed, new patient care needs have arisen, such as the need for more patient education, increased understanding of treatment options and healthcare coverage and overcoming obstacles to care. Many physicians and healthcare systems are adding a new role to help with patient care – called a patient navigator.


A Patient Navigator is a person who helps patients effectively and efficiently use the healthcare system. Unfortunately, our healthcare system is still considered to be quite complex, confusing and fragmented. And while primary care physicians and their teams work to help their patients by referring to and coordinating care outside of their primary care office visits, there is often limited time to do so, and the needs are greater than primary care offices can support. This is where a patient navigator can add great value for both physicians and patients, freeing up time for the physician and providing personalized attention and care for individual patients.


The Patient Navigator model is not new to health care; in fact, the cancer community has used the patient navigation model successfully for years. Many cancer patients find that having a patient navigator is helpful for providing education, access to services, care coordination and emotional support. As primary care physicians move more and more to becoming a true medical home for patients (a one-stop practice that understands the whole health picture for a patient,) patients can truly leverage the knowledge and expertise of a patient navigator.


For example, a patient newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s may feel overwhelmed and confused about what steps to take after an initial diagnosis. And while she may work with her physician to discuss treatment options, the patient navigator can help her identify where and when to schedule her treatment, provide support for getting her to her appointments and referring her to services for someone to watch her elderly father while she is getting treatment. Additionally, the patient navigator is helping the patient coordinate her care and increasing the communication and collaboration among all her healthcare providers and caregivers.


Studies have shown that use of patient navigators can help improve patients’ outcomes – or treatment success, especially for complex cases. Many health care settings and practices are beginning to offer patient navigation services to their patients on a fee-for-service basis or as part of a concierge package. It’s important for all of us as patients, parents or caregivers, to have a complete picture of all the resources available to help us and our loved ones ensure we’re living the healthiest life possible.