Why is Navigating the Healthcare System so important?

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Healthcare navigation is like a map that guides patients through their healthcare journey.

Healthcare professionals and clinicians are expected to understand various terminologies and medical procedures such as appendectomy, cataract surgery, wound, burn, infection debridement, and so on. However, patients don’t have this specialized knowledge or vocabulary.

Providing patients with a convenient and easy process to follow is essential. Patients are unlikely to follow a healthcare plan if they don’t understand it. This complicates and reduces the effectiveness of the healthcare practitioner’s work.

Now, more than ever, patients need help navigating the healthcare system. The outbreak of COVID-19 has made it more critical yet more challenging. Thankfully, digital technologies can help transcend geographical and cultural barriers. Understanding the benefits of healthcare navigation may be the first step to making it a reality for everyone. Moreover, acknowledging some of the problems in the healthcare system and offering solutions to them will produce better results for all.

Problems With The Healthcare System And Solutions

  1. Communication

A large percentage of medical complications and deaths per year are caused by problems with communication. We need improved strategies and communication technologies to ensure better information flow between providers and patients and among the various providers.

Even when these strategies are implemented, we often find only a percentage of healthcare employees utilizing them, with others still using archaic strategies and ineffective methods of communication like beepers, one-way pagers, and fax machines. The repercussions of poor communication are too significant to be ignored.

The top priority in this area is communication between providers and patients. According to some studies, providers often miss opportunities to engage patients on key topics, even when the patient expresses interest.

This may be due to time constraints for the physician, insufficient training on how to initiate and carry out these conversations, and the unavailability of information for patients. Proper training in these non-technical areas and easily digestible and available information for patients would go a long way in bridging the communication gap between provider and patient.

  1. Transitional care:

Each time a patient is released from the hospital to their home or a non-acute facility, they must go through a confusing, stressful, and often hurried process. Some of the instructions given are general and not specific to the patient’s needs.

Nurses have time constraints, so they spend less time on patient care now. This may leave the patient confused about their treatment plan. This also makes follow-up appointments more complicated.

The transition from the hospital must be clear and consistent with the needs of each patient. The patient’s plan of care must be effectively communicated, understood, and acknowledged. In cases of switching providers, the continuity of provider responsibility must be ensured.

  1. Appointment scheduling:


It’s not practical for patients to diagnose their ailments before seeing their provider. They should be able to get an appointment once they feel an unusual duration or severity of a symptom instead of having to wait for weeks or even months.

Benefits Of Helping Patients Navigate The Healthcare System

  1. Diagnosis and treatment are faster

Illnesses such as diabetes and cancer become fatal when diagnosis and treatment aren’t prompt. With navigators, patients can get their diagnosis quicker and begin their treatment plan as soon as possible. According to one study, healthcare navigation has helped to increase early-stage cancer diagnosis by 20 percent since its introduction. When illnesses are diagnosed early, there’s a higher chance of getting positive health outcomes. 

  1. Bridging healthcare disparities

There are barriers to health services that health’s social determinants may create. Some of these are:

  • Lack of insurance: healthcare insurance isn’t affordable for many people. With healthcare navigation, patients and families can create a plan that works best for them and won’t have to forego their treatments to afford other necessities. 
  • Cultural and language differences: many people don’t speak English as their first language. Yet they must communicate their problems and concerns to their healthcare provider and understand their provider’s treatment plan. Healthcare navigation ensures that patients are connected to multilingual healthcare providers capable of communicating in their native language. 
  • Transportation: transportation to a hospital isn’t easy for everyone because not everyone lives with easy access to standard care centers or has cars for transport. Rural, low-income, and chronically sick patients may find it a challenge to get to medical appointments. All patients can get definitive medical care irrespective of their circumstances with healthcare navigation. 
  1. Improved life quality

Cancer patients with an active and dedicated navigator who regularly calls and offers support tend to have a higher quality of life than patients without navigators. A good navigator allows the patients to reach out if they need to schedule appointments, fill out important paperwork, or coordinate transportation.

Improving patient satisfaction is crucial to improving health outcomes. According to a study of cancer survivors, improved healthcare navigation will lead to an improved quality of life. Some survivors that were not satisfied with the services they received were not confident enough to interact with clinicians, handle stress, or carry out daily activities. This study also proved that proper healthcare navigation helps patients to adhere to their follow-up treatment.

  1. Improved communication between patients and providers

Communication is crucial to improving patient experience and health operations. Proper healthcare navigation helps to address the barriers to providing proper healthcare. One study demonstrated that participating in a healthcare navigation program helps patients overcome most of their communication problems with providers by about 73%. There are several benefits to excellent communication between providers and patients. Some of these are:

  • It improves compliance with treatment plans.
  • It prevents errors.
  • It reduces anxiety.
  • It enables understanding and increases the bond between provider and patient.

Healthcare navigation ensures that the clinicians hear patients and that patients also feel heard.

Conclusion

Navigating the healthcare system may be challenging, but it is nonetheless crucial. It comes with many benefits, but not for the patients alone. Healthcare providers also have a lot to gain from healthcare navigation. So, both parties must get involved in ensuring that healthcare navigation becomes a standard for everyone.

 

Jerome Puryear

Dr. Jerome Puryear Jr., MD, MBA, is a Health and Well-being coach and renowned Obesity in Medicine expert. With a holistic perspective on patient care, Dr. JP is dedicated to helping individuals maximize their health and well-being.