The Pulse | Friday, August 23, 2019
Nurse Navigators: Guiding Patients in the Right Direction
Judy Jones has been a gastroenterology nurse navigator at Advocate Trinity Hospital since 2015, and has helped countless patients receive the care they need. Previously a physician’s assistant during Endoscopy procedures, Jones helped with smaller tasks but wanted more quality time with patients she now provides care for, regularly. In Jones’ role as a nurse navigator, she provides timely, efficient, informative, educational care to every patient she comes in contact with. This role gives her the opportunity to be much more involved in their pre- and post-procedures with more responsibility overall.
“I enjoy it,” Jones says. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction.” From scheduling appointments to giving resources and assisting with insurance or money issues, Jones ensures that not only the patient, but also their family, is not alone as they navigate through the, at times, confusing healthcare system. In addition, encouraging patients to come to their procedures and reminding them how important it is, is something she feels strongly about.
When Jones was chosen for the role of nurse navigator, she took it with stride. She asked herself, “How do I do this? How do I get started?” The role was all brand new, she says. “I sat down and thought about the process and the patients…it’s been moving pretty steadily.” Jones has been helping others receive care ever since.
“Patients call me; I do a lot of investigative work. I review and go over guidelines. I want them to know they’re important.” She adds,
“It’s important to me to get that patient scheduled for their next appointment right away. If not, they don’t feel important. I want the patient to have a positive experience.”
For some individuals, scheduling a colonoscopy directly through a physician can take months. Jones, however, says she can get the procedure scheduled within a week or two, as well as thoroughly explain and send preparation instructions to the patient, without consultation fees. “It makes [life] easier for the patient,” Jones said.
Many patients have disclosed to Jones that they weren’t aware they should have a colonoscopy, which makes her role that much more important. “We really want to catch those who have never had a colonoscopy so we can make sure everything is great, and if it’s not, that it’s treated in a timely manner.”
Jones said it can be a challenging job, at times. Patients are understandably apprehensive. She notes that being active in the community is a good way to get people involved, informed and educated. Advocate Trinity often tries to bring people together and host events. “You have to involve them,” she says.
“I have passion for what I do for my patients and for the community.”
Jones said a common occurrence for those needing to undergo procedures — like a colonoscopy — is the fear of the unknown. “Fear and the stigma of ‘How are people going to look at me now?’ influences people a lot.” Jones claims that patients often change their minds, suffer silently or ignore symptoms just because they don’t want to be treated differently. However, many issues can be easily resolved if people are smart about the actions they take.
Jones has had first-hand experience with this and that’s one of the reasons she works so hard to ensure others take care of themselves. “My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. He knew he had colon cancer but thought it would just go away. When we found out, it was too late. That’s what you find with a lot of patients who come here. It’s so crucial to be tested early. I really push for it,” she says.
It can be scary — but nurse navigators are there for just that reason: to guide their patients and, hopefully, make sure their fears and stress can be eased.
Sometimes people just aren’t ready to take those steps, she says, and that’s fine. “All I can do is stress to them the importance of it,” she says, and also notes that the help is there for patients when they want it. “They’ll call me back and say, ‘You were right.’ It’s important to me that they don’t get lost."
If you’re a good listener when patients are speaking, they will listen in return. That’s how you can direct them to wherever they need to go. For Jones, the most important things to keep top of mind coming into this role are to have compassion, patience and understanding. “They should love working with people and their medical needs,” she says. “Most of all, they need to be willing to be a patient advocate.”