Navigators work to keep patients from falling through cracks

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Patient navigators – “like the air traffic controllers in health care” – captured the attention of Pamela Fayerman of the Vancouver Sun.

Fayerman explains that patient navigators are specially trained health care providers who help patients get access to care and services they need, serve as liaisons between patients and doctors and generally ensure patients don’t fall through the cracks of a complex health care system.

Fayerman’s five-day, multiplatform series on patient navigators was published last week and is a comprehensive look at this relatively new practice being applied to Canadian patients. She explores the roots of patient navigation in Harlem and goes on to document the evolution in Canada over the past decade.

In a story about one patient, Fayerman shows how the role of a navigator in getting efficient treatment, follow up and having a point of contact got the patient into the hospital for triple bypass surgery before she had a heart attack and sustained damage to her heart.

Other stories look at how navigators bring a culturally sensitive approach to treating members of the aboriginal community, as well as the unwillingness of Canadians to pay out of pocket for navigators, but:

In the U.S., where people are used to paying for health care, navigators are becoming more and more common – in both insured and non-insured settings and at for-profit and non-profit hospitals.

Fayerman, who used a $20,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, visited five provinces and 12 cities over eight months, interviewing nurse and other navigators, their patients and health system leaders. She explains why the series is important and how patients can be their own navigators.

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