Working as an oncology nurse navigator means that I am one of many medical providers on a patient’s care team. This can be very helpful for my patients; however, there are times when it is confusing as well, both for patients and other providers on the care team.
As medical care in the United States evolves, new roles like that of the nurse navigator are created to fill patient needs that are being identified. There is power when medical teams work well together, but when they don’t, both patients and providers come off second best. Patients can sense when there are power struggles and confusion within their health care team, which can lead to loss of trust on the part of the patient.
The Journal of Oncology Navigation and Survivorship column, “Role Delineation in Oncology Navigation,” examines the differing roles of the lay patient navigator and oncology nurse navigator, and how, if they work well together (each working within their own scope of practice), patients can experience better, more timely care. There may be some overlap at times, but as long as both navigators understand this to be the case, they can work in tandem to provide excellent care. In the column, Jennifer Bires, LICSW, is quoted as saying, “Everyone has their own expertise level, but they should work together to meet the patient’s needs.”
Role delineation depends on collaboration between providers. One way to improve collaboration is to bring it to the next level. Clear, concise communication between providers on the same team is vital to establishing what the different roles entail. Most providers will be happy to share their own understanding of who does what if asked in a friendly, non-threatening way.
If navigators are finding they are still frustrated by confusing roles within the patient team, reaching out to supervisors may be a great way to clarify exactly the expectations for each provider.
What matters most is that as long as we are keeping lines of communication open with each other, patient care will improve. Understanding that patient care is ultimately tied to how well each of us performs can provide the added push to reach out and connect. This seemingly small act can have far-reaching consequences when it comes to improving patient care. Not only is this beneficial for patients, it can improve the lives of navigators as well.