When a doctor gives you or a loved one a cancer diagnosis, you may feel at a loss for words and full of different emotions. It is not an easy health topic to handle and you may not know where to start, but that is when a nurse navigator is there to step in and help.
What Is A Cancer Nurse Navigator?
Cancer nurse navigators are registered nurses who are specially trained in cancer care and coordinating treatment among a team of health care providers. Nurse navigators serve as guides and advocates for cancer patients and their families.
Nurse navigators help make the cancer process feel more comfortable. According to Joan Filipowski, RN, a Franciscan Health breast and lung cancer nurse navigator in Crown Point, nurse navigators take what could seem like a cold, sterile treatment process for a patient and make it feel warmer, more personal, for both parties.
"The nurse navigator provides emotional support and encouragement as a health care provider but makes a new friend in the process," Filipowski said.
Patients are not alone during the process, starting from the day they are diagnosed. According to Terri Foelsch, RN, at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields Patricia A. Joyce Comprehensive Cancer Institute, cancer nurse navigations walk with patients during their cancer journey, beginning with diagnosis.
“We offer to sit with patients at they meet with the medical oncologist for the first time and help answer questions and explain medical terms so they have a sense of security when they are here,” Foelsch said.
What Does A Nurse Navigator Do?
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they can feel like their world is crashing down and is a shocking and traumatizing experience, but nurse navigators can offer needed support. Teresa Van Horssen, RN, a cancer nurse navigator at Franciscan Health Munster, says one of the most vital functions of a nurse navigator is serving as a single point of contact for patients. She said the world of cancer can be complicated and patients find it comforting one person can handle all their needs.
“They can call us about medications, side effects, the next step in their treatment plan, help with appointment scheduling and more,” Van Horrsen said. “We may not always have the answer, but we’ll always try to help.”
Our cancer nurse navigators help patients in several ways:
- Educate cancer patients on their diagnoses, treatment options and care plans
- Assist with securing timely appointments and troubleshooting insurance issues
- Connect patients with social, financial and educational resources during their cancer treatment
- Provide emotional support and encouragement for cancer patients
- Provide survivorship care plans following treatment
Early in the patient relationship, nurse navigators ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening.
“By listening, we can find out if someone needs assistance with transportation, food or support groups,” Foelsch said. She says when nurse navigators help patients access these types of resources, patients are getting important tools to help them win their fight.
The Benefits Of Nurse Navigators For Cancer Patients
Medical research and multi-disciplinary data show that nurse navigation makes a difference for oncology patients. A study in the journal Cancer Care, published by the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care, showed that having cancer nurse navigators:
- Improved patient outcomes in cancer care
- Reduced length of hospital stays
- Improved patient quality of life
- Increased patient satisfaction
Another study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that oncology patients who had access to a nurse navigator reported fewer problems with their care, including care coordination and patient education, compared with those who were left to navigate the process on their own.
How Much Does the Cancer Nurse Navigation Program Cost?
The oncology nurse navigator program is a free service for Franciscan Health patients.
"We don't charge for navigation services," said Karen Norris, RN, a Franciscan Health prostate and colorectal nurse navigator in Indianapolis. “Franciscan Health provides nurse navigators because they enhance the patient's experience and increase the quality of care by sealing the gaps.”
Helping With Life After Cancer Treatment
Nurse navigation does not end with cancer treatment. After traditional cancer treatment is complete, patients are provided with a Survivorship Care Plan, which is a coordinated, post-treatment plan for you and your entire health care team, including oncologists and primary care doctor. You and your physicians receive a complete history of your cancer care.
Clear steps are provided to identify treatment goals and manage care after active treatment, including guidelines on monitoring for possible secondary cancers, long-term side effects, schedule for follow-up tests and support services. Patients are then reassessed for needs (physical, emotional, and financial) and referred to appropriate programs and resources to get their lives back on track.
Learn more about the cancer nurse navigator program at Franciscan Health.