​​​​​​​Maryland hospital hires patients as navigators

Patient navigators are a staple at hospitals, but one Maryland facility is taking a new approach by hiring former patients to lead their peers though the building and to their appointments.

Garrett Regional Medical Center, a 55-bed rural facility in Oakland, Maryland, got permission from state regulators earlier this year to train five patient navigators as part of its Population Health Workforce Support for Disadvantaged Areas program, according to an article from the Associated Press. Officials at the hospital say that those people are perfect candidates because they’re experienced in navigating the health system and may also lack the financial means to manage their own illnesses.

“What better way to enter into the healthcare system than to have lived through it,” Mark Boucot, president and CEO of Garrett Regional Medical Center, told Hospitals & Health Networks. “That example is going to be so much more powerful to the community and the patients we serve.”

Those participating will undergo an 80-hour community health worker training program, according to H&HN, which will include teaching on how to help patients with chronic pain and strategies for navigating the health system. From there, the navigators will join Garrett’s patient management department and gain care coordination experience to help guide patients that enter the hospital’s Well Patient Program.

Navigators can help health organizations engage with patients--pilot navigation programs have linked effective use of such staff members to reduce ER overuse and readmissions. Navigators are also effective in helping poor patients who may not get sufficient care and can reduce delays in treatments and diagnoses.