Navigator Challenge: Ask, Hear, Respond

How do you approach the psychological and emotional healthcare experience of your patients?  Do you consider them an expert in the process?

We do. In fact, one of our guiding principles is that the patient is the first expert on managing their care experience. They know what they need, what works, and what doesn’t work, in their care. Thus, we believe that your crucial first step as a nurse navigator is to ask, hear and respond to to the needs of your patient.

Why do we feel this way? As healthcare providers, we specialize in training Nurse Navigators to guide patients through the journey of breast cancer, with all its twists and turns of diagnosis, treatment options, life changes and adjustments, and the myriad of emotions they and everyone affected around them encounter along the way. Yes, we as navigators know much about breast cancer: its causes, diagnosis, treatment and recovery.  What we don’t know is the individual needs of each patient who sits in front of us with a new diagnosis; these needs are a secret to be uncovered to ensure a successful psychological recovery.  Taking the time to ask and hear before we respond can be  a challenge in the face of the many tasks we have to perform daily, yet it is the most important component to our patient’s psychological safety.

One of the mental tools you can employ to stay grounded and remind yourself of the importance of taking the time to discover a new patient’s unique needs is to think, each time you pick up a new patient’s chart: “This could be my Mom or daughter, how would I want someone to treat them?”  It works! This technique taps into your empathy and reminds you of this person’s relationships and important life roles she has, much like your own. It reinforces her uniqueness and the fact that she is a special person who needs your undivided search for her needs. Finally, it also helps you remember not to impose any preconceived ideas of “what’s best” on her treatment journey.

It is only when we slow down at the beginning of the journey to discover this valuable information by asking questions and listening for her reply that we uncover what she needs.  Her needs, added to our medical interventions help make this unexpected, unwanted journey into the scary world of cancer treatment more bearable.  As Breast Health Navigators, we are the members of the interdisciplinary team that serve as her voice.  These needs and desires are only revealed to us when the patient views us as a trusted member of her healthcare team who cares about her personal needs.  So, slow down, take the time to tap into her heart to discover her recovery needs and them give voice to them as treatment decisions are made.  Navigation at its best is to ask, hear and respond.

What insights have you gleaned from your patients with an “Ask, hear, and respond” approach? How have these insights helped you become an even better advocate for your patients?


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