Patient Navigator: on the frontline of care

June 01, 2020
“We know that waiting times are a very sensitive issue for patients. If patients are left to wait for long periods of time, they may feel anxious, or that they’re not receiving the appropriate level of care. That’s why dealing with and managing waiting times is one of our top priorities.” These are the words of Panitta Suvannapaph, a patient Navigator officer at the Horizon Regional Cancer Center.
The healing journey of each and every cancer patient at the Horizon Regional Cancer Center begins with meeting Panitta, whose main role is to welcome and assist patients. “My work involves taking care of every single patient that walks through the doors of the Horizon Regional Cancer Center. First impressions are so important, because not only do we have to take care of the patient’s practical needs, we also have to consider their emotional needs. Trust is needed for effective treatment, so we need to put the patient at ease right from the very beginning. Whatever it is that they need, we help to coordinate and help to meet that need without fail.”

An ordinary job with extraordinary responsibilities

“We often have patients who are special cases that need extra care and attention. For example, those who are unable to sit for very long, or those who have a habit of getting extremely anxious while waiting,” Panitta explains. “I always make a point of memorizing these patients by appearances--even though I always remember each and every patient who comes my way anyway--so that I can mentally plan and anticipate how best to meet their needs.”
“Every day after work, I review the patients scheduled in for the next day; what type of patient they are, their preferences, or any special requirements. Do I find it exhausting or frustrating? I would have to admit that yes, it is at times. But I don’t dwell on those moments, because I pride myself in delivering a hundred percent to every patient, and ensuring that they all receive equal attention. There are many things to juggle all at once, be it the needs of the patient, the demands of their families, or anything that comes up.” One of Panitta’s main responsibilities is to be keenly observant of all her patients, and to review each individual case constantly. Panitta anticipates problems before they occur, such as scheduling conflicts, and always has a solution in place to ensure the best experience for the patient.

Morale-raising time management

“I’ve often noticed that long waiting times causes an inordinate amount of stress and anxiety for patients, making the treatment experience not as a smooth as it could be. There are ways of dealing with this. For example, with patients who have already had their blood tests, I ask for their phone numbers so that they are free to go and occupy themselves with something else instead of waiting, and I can call them to let them know their turn is coming up.
If an oncologist has already reviewed the lab results and confirm that they are good for the scheduled chemotherapy, I will take the patient to the treatment room straight away without having to see the doctor. Not only does this minimize the time spent waiting by the patient, but it is also more convenient for them. It also builds their trust and confidence in the things that we do for them, even if it is just a small part of their treatment”
With over 80 patients coming to see them each day, the Patient Navigator team must deal with a wide variety of situations. This requires a multitude of skills, such as the ability to quickly grasp new information and attention to detail. “As soon as I accepted this position, I told myself that I really have to do my best. I knew that I would have to keep learning new skills and expand my knowledge and experience even further. Every three months I take a medical terminology refresher course to help me better understand the patients and doctors. I am constantly attending workshops on the various types of cancer so that I can better understand the patients and the disease that they are dealing with.”
“I think being a good listener is very helpful in understanding the patients, so that I can be the most helpful to them. Even if I often have to work overtime, or answer calls from patients late at night, I am more than willing to do so if it puts them more at ease. Knowing that I’ve made them better in my own little way makes me proud,” Panitta beamed.
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