How does a nurse navigator help after a cancer diagnosis?
The time immediately after a cancer diagnosis is confusing and often frightening. There is new terminology to learn very quickly, complicated information to take in and what feels like a thousand decisions to make all at once. The process can be disorienting and lead to an even greater level of stress and uncertainty. With an oncology nurse navigator’s help, however, things can be a little simpler and hopefully less stressful.
Ashley Rogers, RN, explained how nurse navigators help during the critical time after a cancer diagnosis and what you can expect as you navigate your cancer journey.
What is a nurse navigator? Is it like a case manager?
“An oncology nurse navigator is a professional registered nurse, or RN, who has oncology-specific training, experience and clinical knowledge in order to provide informed care and help to patients, families and their caregivers,” said Rogers. “It’s a nurse navigator’s role, essentially, to help the patient and their loved ones to overcome barriers and navigate the complicated healthcare system.”
An oncology nurse navigator can provide education and resources, speaking with patients and loved ones to help them to make informed decisions and receive timely access to not just physical healthcare, but also psychosocial care.
Case managers focus more on cutting down hospital readmissions, and so their focus is more on the facility, while a nurse navigator focuses on working for the patient.
How do nurse navigators help during cancer care?
“For nurse navigators, it’s not something where you might see them at the beginning and not at all later on,” said Rogers. “Oncology nurse navigators are there to assist patients all the way through from preventive care through the completion of treatment, whether that’s moving into survivorship or end-of-life care.”
Services that nurse navigators help to provide include:
- Prepare for new patients. This involves reviewing patient records, discussing their case with the oncology provider or participation in the tumor board.
- Encourage clear and open communication. A nurse navigator functions as a single point of contact for patients and providers, helping to coordinate communication and services between the patient and their oncology team.
- Help overcome barriers to care. The navigator can provide information on medication assistance, refer patients to financial counselors, offer information for local and national counseling resources and identify resources for transportation and lodging if needed.
- Connect patients with clinical trials. In collaboration with clinical research nurses, a nurse navigator can help to direct patients and their family members to information on clinical trials that may offer more treatment options.
- Suggest referral options. Your navigator can make recommendations for genetic counseling, the palliative care team, social work, counseling, chaplain services, or end-of-life care.
- Provide education and essential information. For many patients, it’s important to have someone just to talk to. A nurse navigator can discuss with the patient the disease process, the plan of care outlined by their physician (including side effects, home prep needs, frequency of treatments needed and more. They also deliver and review survivorship care plans.
- Improve patient experience. A nurse navigator can talk through management of side effects and who to call and will make contact after the first infusion, at the mid-point and at the end of treatment. They may also contact you more frequently depending on your needs.
- Provide support on every level. Navigators can provide emotional support, help to reduce the time it takes to move from initial diagnosis to treatment, help patients develop greater confidence in managing their cancer and its treatment, review emergency room visits to look for gaps in care, make follow-up calls to assist in accessing resources related to their ER visit and more.
Do you need to request a nurse navigator’s help after a cancer diagnosis?
“Not at all! You absolutely do not need to ask for a nurse navigator,” said Rogers. “Right off the bat, patients are discussed by the navigation team to look into what kinds of resources and assistance they might need during their treatment and beyond. After that, the navigator and the patient decide how much and what sort of support will likely be needed.”
Treatment and support needs might change as time goes on, so a navigator can provide assistance to patients even if they’re not currently receiving treatment but still face barriers to receiving care.
Are patients able to speak with nurse navigators outside of scheduled appointments?
“Of course! Your nurse navigator can be contacted any time during office hours,” said Rogers. “Most patients will really get to know their nurse navigator very well … and their nurse navigator will get to know them!”’
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