How are Health Navigators like superheroes?
Imagine your physician diagnoses that you have cancer or some chronic life-changing disease. You are shocked. You are thinking, 'Will I die? How much time will I have with my family? What about the financial burden this will create? What about health insurance--will it cover all of my medical expenses?' Your head starts spinning as you face the reality of this diagnosis. The physician is busy describing treatment options and all the appointments from labs and procedures, to treatment itself. It is too overwhelming. How will you manage to remember everything?
Now imagine there’s someone who is going to hold your hand, be your advocate and help you navigate through this life crisis. You will not be alone.
That superhero you’re imagining is a Health Navigator.
“When you or a loved one is given a serious diagnosis, like cancer, a long-term care situation or a heart condition, it can be overwhelming to try to manage yourself," says Health Navigator instructor Chua Xiong, RN. “Our health care system is continually evolving and becoming complex to navigate. Patients are feeling helpless and lost, and this factors greatly into their health outcomes."
What is a Health Navigator?
In NWTC’s Health Navigator associate degree program, students learn all aspects of navigating the health care system, from how the systems deliver services, to health insurance, to effective communication in a health care setting, to accessing and analyzing health information and much more. There are internships to help students acquire practical experiences. This well rounded curriculum will help prepare students to help patients find the strategies and supports they need.
Health Navigators work along with the health care team (ex. physicians, nurses, social workers) to assess patients’ needs and remove barriers that prevent patients from achieving optimum health. Their help might include anything from connecting to community resources, to making sure necessary appointments are made, to explaining health insurance and medical bills and more. By removing these barriers, patients can focus on taking care of themselves.
"Health navigators can research and locate resources for you," Xiong said. "For instance, if you are looking at specialists in the area and have no idea where to begin, a health navigator can do the research and share information with you, so you can make an informed decision. If you have concerns about health insurance, they will help call your insurance company to address your concerns or link you to a health benefit specialist. If you need a wheelchair temporarily after surgery, a health navigator can look for agencies that rent them so you don't have to buy one. The navigator is guiding patients through the health care system, addressing concerns patients may have and linking them to the resources they may need.”
"The navigator works as part of the health care team of doctors, nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists and more. This collaborative team approach is focused on patient-centered care,” Xiong said.
Where do Health Navigators work?
Health navigators can work in a variety of health settings, including hospitals, insurance companies, clinics, social service agencies and mental health centers. They can also work in human resources for companies that want to help their employees use their benefits effectively.
Job titles and new positions are still being created in response to the increasing complexity of medical care, the growing recognition that different populations face different health care obstacles, and the recent focus on good health care outcomes as a measure of quality. Local health care providers and community agencies are taking on Health Navigator intern students as they see there is a need to expand this service area and explore implementing this new position at their sites in the near future.
Who makes a good Health Navigator?
Students can enroll in the Health Navigator program with no prior health industry experience, but most of Xiong’s students already have experience or degrees elsewhere and are changing careers due to personal passion—and compassion.
“The majority of my students are coming in from another career. They may have a psychology or biology degree, a teaching career, or experience working in other areas of health care. Many students are passionate because they have had their own personal ordeals with the health care system. Their experience inspires them to enter an occupation that will make a difference in the lives of others.”
How can I become a Health Navigator?
Visit the Health Navigator program page or email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the online information form. Your compassion can make a big difference!
Chua Xiong is the creator and lead instructor for NWTC's Health Navigator associate degree program. She's enthusiastic, compassionate and great in a health care crisis--and she can help you become a hero for patients!