Patient Care Navigators are becoming increasingly popular as health care becomes more complicated, making it difficult for patients to understand the best direction to take for their health needs. Nurses trained in this patient-centered service offer a human interpreter to help demystify administrative paperwork, medical jargon and available treatment options. Patients who are better educated on their healthcare needs become better consumers of healthcare dollars and understand when to call their physicians for care.
To help fill this need, Shenandoah University and Inova Health Systems have joined forces to offer a Patient Care Navigator certificate program for registered nurses. The program is open to currently licensed RNs from any organization and results in a continuing education validation.
Lisa Darsch, MSN, RN and adjunct faculty member at the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing, developed the course with Nancy Loeffler, MHA, BSN, ACM, CCM and Chief Nursing Officer at Inova Medical Group.
This program will help prepare a generation of RNs from across the continuum of care to better provide for patients in the outpatient setting. With the length of hospital stays decreasing and more complex care being guided in physician offices and other outpatient settings, the general public needs a resource to gather information on care questions and delivery. Nurse navigators are uniquely qualified to provide this advice as they know the entire spectrum of care, starting with pre-hospitalization (e.g., joint replacement programs) to the inpatient side of care (e.g., congestive heart failure) to the postoperative/post hospital episode of care where we help patients reattain or improve their health. This attainment of health occurs when we guide persons through their outpatient services and ensure they’re seeing their physicians, taking medications and doing whatever is deemed necessary for their success.”
— Lisa Darsch
Darsch said as hospitals are paid less by the government and insurance companies, they will be looking for more follow-up in the outpatient setting. “Our goal is to train an entire team of nurses to care for these patients,” she said.
“Because the program expands the access a patient has to further education on chronic disease states, lowers readmissions and helps save healthcare costs across the continuum, the best support we’ve had has come from the CMO and CEOs of the ambulatory sections of Winchester Medical Center and Inova Medical Group,” added Loeffler. “The typical students are RNs already studying navigation who want to learn more about what they should be doing, RN case managers wanting to know how to transition to a navigator or RNs trying to make the transition to a different position in nursing that is satisfying and patient-centered.”
The program began as a weekend offering in the fall of 2017. The latest class, in February, was a weeklong immersion. Classes are held at the Inova Center for Personalized Health building on the Inova campus and up to 100 nurses will be certified through the program in 2018.
“Presently, our biggest impediment to success is that nurses have to pay for the program out of pocket, but we are working to change this,” Darsch said. They are setting up a model where hospitals pay to train an entire group at once to eliminate this factor and already, some organizations are paying a portion of the tuition. The interactive nature of the class requires a classroom setting for the optimal educational experience and the course provides a total of 40 hours of continuing education credit, which RNs use to maintain licensure in their home states.
The word is spreading about the program, thanks to graduates who have been its best ambassadors. “Our exit surveys are amazing and show the true power of the knowledge we are conveying,” added Darsch. “We also work with graduates on opportunities to interview for navigator positions or help them maximize their network to keep them better informed about services available in the community. We are weaving a web of success that catches and closes the gaps in outpatient care. Saving one hospital readmission is equal to the cost of offering one class for 20 nurses so this should be the game changer for hospital readmission rates that facilities are looking to address. We are hopeful our program we will on the cutting edge of change in this area and are delighted INOVA participated in its development. At some point in the near future, we would also like to work with the American Nurses Association to make this a recognized specialty in the area of nursing.”