Being diagnosed with cancer is always a devastating experience, and a mesothelioma diagnosis may be particularly overwhelming for both the patient as well as his family. Often after hearing the diagnosis from the physician, the mesothelioma patient and his family understandably do not really hear much else.
Mesothelioma is aggressive and a multimodality approach (meaning surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) is often recommended as the course of treatment. As a result, a patient necessarily has appointments with an oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a surgeon, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, at imaging, at nuclear medicine and with other specialists and departments.
In order to find one’s way through this seemingly complex medical maze, forward thinking medical centers today have on staff patient navigators to assist mesothelioma patients and others facing a cancer diagnosis. A patient navigator is a professional with medical training, sometimes as a nurse or a medical assistant.
First and foremost, the patient navigator will meet with the patient and be there to help. She will help schedule appointments. She will try to set appointments as conveniently as possible, perhaps limiting the number of days that a mesothelioma patient has to go to the medical center or the hospital. The navigator also meets with the patient’s team to discuss the plan for care and treatment, as well as progress and difficulties that may develop along the way.
If there seems to be a conflict between prescriptions or if instructions are unclear, the navigator will help to straighten out the situation and provide clarity for the patient. The patient navigator’s job is to alleviate much of the stress and concern that a patient and his family may feel when trying to navigate the system themselves. The navigator helps to ensure that the patient does not feel alone in this process.
A mesothelioma patient’s needs go beyond medical tests and treatment. An effective patient navigator will assist with issues involving medical insurance, financial assistance, nutrition and with psychosocial problems. When the need arises, palliative care suggestions can be provided. Sometimes the navigator will suggest an appropriate support group.
One example of a state of the art patient navigation system is available at Queen’s Cancer Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. An award winning and innovative program, the Queen’s Patient Navigation Program helps patients wind their way through their medical treatment, and transition from inpatient to outpatient care when necessary. The result for the patient is improved medical care, more focus on quality of life and an overall better experience for the patient at an incredibly difficult time.