Patient satisfaction and professional development among top trends at the Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators 4th Annual Conference
—Natalie Yaworsky, MPH
More than 500 nurse navigators, patient navigators, social workers, and hospital administrators traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to participate in the annual Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators (AONN) Conference, which was held November 15-17, 2013.
Oncology nurse navigators provide individual assistance for patients, families, and caregivers through education and resources to access “quality health and psychosocial care throughout all phases of the cancer care continuum.” Nurse navigators serve a unique role, which has its origins in social work and nursing (Figure).
Figure. Social work and nursing fusion.
Although 60 percent of nurse navigators are employed by hospitals, nurse navigators are most often referred by fellow patients in chemotherapy suites, according to Christiana Care Health System’s Tina Scherer, OCN, MSN, RN. One major reason patients value nurse navigators is due to their ability to foster unique and enduring relationships. Unlike the typical one-time nurse−patient encounter, a relationship between a nurse navigator and a patient endures throughout the patient’s treatment and addresses the patient’s medical and social needs.
A patient’s journey may include many visits to a general practitioner and specialist physicians, repeated laboratory and imaging tests, radiation, and surgery. With the help of nurse navigators, appointments can be scheduled sooner, remaining questions regarding test results can be reviewed, and, most importantly, compliance with medication and treatment plans can be monitored and addressed. Therefore, patients become well educated about their condition and are less likely to fall behind in their medical treatment plans.
Patients also face significant social barriers, which can affect or delay their treatment plans. One major barrier to timely care, which was prominently discussed during the conference, was the problem of obtaining transportation to and from treatment. Many oncology patients, particularly those living in rural areas, have difficulty traveling to care centers. Nurse navigators identify this and other barriers to care, such as language competency, and locate available community resources to ensure that the patient does not postpone crucial treatment.
Although patients have qualitatively asserted the importance of nurse navigators in holistic treatment, few quantifiable data have been collected to show cost effectiveness. In an attempt to standardize the profession and demonstrate its effectiveness, new guidelines have been issued by the Commission on Cancer® (CoC), the accrediting body of nurse navigator programs. The new standards require that all CoC-accredited Navigation Programs complete community needs assessments and establish a Survivorship Care Plan, which includes creating follow-up plans for patients completing cancer treatment. Both standards require the significant evaluation and reporting of quantifiable data to enhance the navigation process each year.
Given the combination of the medical and social focus on cancer treatment and the high patient satisfaction with this holistic approach, the future of nurse navigation appears to be bright. However, it is still remains to be seen exactly how these new standards will affect navigation programs and the evolution of the nurse navigator profession. Either way, it is critical that nurse navigators receive targeted information regarding the most recent treatment options and standards because they have become a critical patient resource.