'Nurse navigators' guide patients through complicated care system

Dedicated to helping patients go through a sometimes extremely complicated healthcare system, a new breed of "nurse navigators" aims to guide cancer patients through explanations, scheduling, information, advice and support.

"Cancer patients can get lost floating around in the system and they need someone knowledgeable to help anchor them," said Dava Gerard, a breast surgeon and administrator in Presbyterian Healthcare Services' cancer-treatment program, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A team of four nurse navigators and a social worker at the Albuquerque, N.M.-based organization helps patients with administrative tasks, such as booking appointments, and provides support when it comes time to select a wig after chemotherapy.

"She was the one who answered all the questions I was trying to figure out and coordinated every step for me," said patient Judith Nakamura about her nurse navigator. "She really helped get me through that system."

In this case, the nurse navigator walked the patient through the every aspect of diagnosis and pathology results, as well being there when she woke up after surgery.

The Commission on Cancer, part of the American College of Surgeons, this year issued standards to require patient-navigation services by 2015 for the institution to receive accreditation, reports the WSJ.

Hospitals across the country are similarly experimenting with new roles outside of the cancer specialty, such as patient coaches, otherwise known as patient navigators, for transitional care; hospital navigators for low-income patients; and cultural concierges for language and other ethnic-sensitive patient concerns.

For more:
- read the WSJ article
- visit the National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators 
- read about one nurse navigator's own experience with breast cancer