The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) at Long Beach Memorial recently expanded, to include a patient navigation program – designed to help patients and their families navigate through the health care system, while making sure that their needs are addressed. The overall goal of the navigation program is to ensure seamless and coordinated care among physicians, diagnostic tests and the cancer treatments, while offering education, support, and guidance to help patients and families cope with their challenges.
In breast and gynecologic cancer care, the nurse navigator is a licensed registered nurse (R.N.), as well as a clinical nurse specialist (C.N.S.). Rebecca Crane-Okada, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.S., A.O.C.N.®, who has more than 30 years of experience in oncology nursing, has taken on this new nurse navigator role. Team Spirit helped bring Crane-Okada to this new post.
“Being diagnosed with cancer can be very overwhelming,” says Rebecca clinical nurse specialist/nurse navigator, Long Beach Memorial. “Patients and families should only have to focus on healing. I try to help manage, or even alleviate, the peripheral worries for all involved.”
The nurse navigator is often charged with addressing the unmet needs identified by patients and their family members, through:
- Guidance: A nurse navigator can explain terminology, the processes and order in which things need to happen; guide patients and their families through the maze of the initial diagnosis and treatment and, as they transition from completion of treatment into long-term wellness/survivorship.
- Problem solving: A nurse navigator can help patients and family members anticipate needs and find resources ahead of time.
- Encouraging coping: A nurse navigator helps build a patients’ knowledge and self confidence, by helping them think through, formulate, and organize questions to ask their healthcare team, making patients better health care consumers.
- Connecting patients to resources: A nurse navigator works with the patient to build a positive recovery plan, by helping patients find the best resources, and make the most of the ones available to them.
Patients usually enter into the navigation program at TCI at the time of a new diagnosis of cancer, however, they also may enter into the program at the start of or during treatment, or if treatments change or problems arise.
Navigation is most successful when the patient and nurse navigator work together with the rest of the health care team. Sometimes the navigator will be the first person a patient turns to for help. If not able to help directly, the navigator will help patients find the help they need. A dedicated Licensed Clinical Social Worker, other RNs, an oncology life coach, mentors (cancer survivors) and research staff also help patients and families navigate through the health care system.
Crane-Okada likens her role as a nurse navigator to serving as a ‘compass’ to patients who are on their cancer ‘journey.’
“The nurse navigator’s primary role is to help ‘guide’ and ‘navigate’ patients through their journey,” says Crane-Okada. Together [nurse navigator and patient], we will do our best to overcome obstacles along the way, leading to what we hope to be a successful recovery and long-term survivorship.”