How To Be Your Own Patient Navigator

Published by Beth Campbell Duke on

How To Be Your Own Patient Navigator

What is a Patient Navigator?

The Patient Navigator helps patients and care partners better understand and navigate our own healthcare situation, to improve our health ‘outcome’. This includes understanding your health issue, and how the system functions so you can more smoothly navigate our healthcare systems.

Important note: Given the current state of healthcare systems, that doesn’t mean the sailing will be smooth. By engaging a navigator, or learning some of the information and skills for yourself you can improve your outcomes.

Why ‘Be Your Own Patient Navigator’?

There are a few reasons that patients and family care partners benefit by becoming their own patient navigators:

  1. As patients and essential care partners we are the only ones navigating among the silos in the systems. We find ourselves responsible for considerable ‘new work‘. Even if you want to hire a formal patient navigator, it’s still important that you understand the basics.
  2. Formal patient navigators are not yet very common in Canada. Many charge a fee which can be a barrier for some/many. There are professionals within the system that can help you navigate your own situation, but they often work in one specific area and may not be familiar with all of the resources you need.

A Word About Support Programs and Services: Everyone’s healthcare situation is different and Canada is the capital of ‘pilot projects’. This means that successful programs may no longer be running and new programs may not be on people’s radar. You are best connected with your own support networks, even if you’re working with a formal patient navigator.

How Do You Learn The ‘New Work’ of Navigating the Healthcare System?

Patients and family care partners take on a significant amount of new work, and that can become overwhelming. How do you learn this new work? In a number of ways:

  • Trial and error. We learn this as we go through the systems and encounter barriers. We learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s helpful to have our own systems in place to collect information and document questions so when things seem complicated we have our own backs, so to speak.
  • Speaking with people. Part of our new work is learning how to tell our stories to different audiences so they understand and can respond. This includes those in healthcare, our families and friends, and the peers we meet in waiting rooms. Many of these people have pieces of information we need, often information that we didn’t even realize we needed.
  • Finding people on social media. Social media can be a great place to find other patients and family care partners navigating similar situations so we don’t feel so alone. It’s especially helpful when we find ourselves physically isolated. Some of the people I’m connected with on Twitter call this having ‘pocket friends’. Pocket friends can often have the contact or piece of information you need, and it’s great when you are able to help someone else.
  • Learning how to spot your ‘helpers‘. Mr. Rogers gave us this critical piece of life advice. In our healthcare systems there are many people who are potential helpers. Sometimes the biggest helpers are those you didn’t expect and they are invaluable. Learning to spot the ‘helpers’ lets you spend less time frustrated with the system and more time in your life.
  • Get connected here. You can take the free ‘Learning the Ropes’ online course to get started.
Patient Navigator

I know what issues we ran into along our own healthcare ‘journey’, and I’ve seen others in similar situations struggle as well. Every situation is different, because there are so many factors that play into our physical health. ‘Learning the Ropes’ online course starts with some key areas we all need to consider when we start interacting more often with the healthcare systems, and we each bring different perspectives and experiences as well. I hope you will take a look at the course and find it valuable.

Beth Campbell Duke

Beth is a science educator and family caregiver for her husband, Tony, and her parents. She's busy developing programs and materials to help other patients and family caregivers navigate the healthcare system and tell their stories. Beth's biggest wish is to see the healthcare system incorporate 'trauma-informed care' into its workplaces to address the growing number of healthcare providers, patients and family caregivers experiencing primary and secondary trauma.