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Don’t Leave Collaboration to Chance

October 13, 2022 | AONN+ Blog | Membership
Featuring:
Julie McMahon, MPH
Julie McMahon, MPH
Director, Patient Navigation, Susan G. Komen®, Dallas, TX

As much as we might want to be, it’s uncommon for any patient care team member to be by a patient’s side for every step of their journey. No one person can meet every need a patient has by themselves. It takes a team that is both facility and community-based to ensure each patient has a seamless, high-quality care journey.

Treatment Team Collaboration

Successful collaboration is, by definition, a joint effort that leverages the strengths of each contributor. To drive the most impact possible for each patient, each care team member must take the time to understand who all the players are, what expertise they bring, and the point(s) in time they’ll enter and exit over the course of a patient’s journey. Navigators can optimize outcomes and reduce disparities when they understand the role of all members of the care team, facilitate collaboration between them, and set the patient up to best utilize their respective areas of expertise.

Navigators often find themselves as the ultimate collaborator in the relentless pursuit to best serve their patients. Here’s how navigators can take an active role in educating a patient about the roles of their care team members:

  • Initiate introductions between team members
  • Support ongoing conversations between the patient and the wider treatment team
  • Equip patients with questions to ask and follow-up to make sure they get their questions answered

Thankfully, navigators are well-acquainted with pulling pieces together that would have otherwise been disjointed across a healthcare journey.

Organizational Collaboration

There’s still a lot of collaboration needed to establish the navigation profession at an organizational level. As the Director of Patient Navigation at Susan G. Komen, I have had the pleasure of working with a team to build a multifaceted navigation program that both provides high-quality navigation to patients and training for navigators across the country on navigation fundamentals, with a particular focus on patients in communities that experience breast health inequities.

We need to inspire one another to make big changes from the executive level. If navigation isn’t a part of your workplace’s existing infrastructure, here are some considerations when building your own program:

  • Take time to map the workflow of how the navigator will be positioned within your organization, and how they’ll be positioned best to collaborate as a part of the patient care team.
  • When building navigation programs, it’s important to ensure they align with already established standards to ensure consistency while supporting the evolution of the navigation profession overall. For example, we incorporated established metrics from AONN+’s Navigation Metrics Toolkit in our program evaluation.
  • Ensure the navigator is empowered to collaborate by understanding their role and scope, using the Oncology Navigation Standards of Professional Practice. For a navigator to collaborate well, they need to understand both their role and scope and how to best utilize the expertise of the other care team members.
  • Consider what kind of tools your navigator needs, including what information they need to track both to support patients and measure outcomes. When possible, use resources like AONN+’s Navigation Metrics Toolkit and incorporate best practices like NCCN’s Distress Screening Tool to demonstrate the impact of your program.
  • Learn from the experiences of other organizations who have built programs already.
  • Ensure you’re leveraging the resources that exist. Map all the assets and resources available to resolve barriers for patients within your organization, and, more importantly, externally for a referral. For example, Komen’s Patient Care Center can provide emotional support, no-cost access to services, and financial assistance for individuals your team may navigate.

Conclusion

There are no downsides for a patient when their treatment team collaborates seamlessly. In fact, it’s what they expect. We are simply better together. With the concept of “evergreen collaboration” at the forefront of our work, we can and will deliver on the promise we make as navigators to deliver the very best care to patients.

About the author

Julie McMahon, MPH, is responsible for the strategic direction and operational leadership of Komen’s patient navigation programs. Her experience includes leadership of patient advocacy and policy, program development, and health equity initiatives for minority and rural populations. She earned her BA in political science from Denison University, and Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the Ohio State University.

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