“What is a care navigator?” A Q&A with Katie Bierlein

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Sophia Guida

“What is a care navigator?” A Q&A with Katie Bierlein

May 28, 2021

Have you ever been referred to a care navigator? Their job is to help patients find the care resources they need to manage certain medical and/or behavioral health conditions.

Katie Bierlein, one of the Institute’s regional directors of social support services, manages the Institute’s care management programs in the Mid-Hudson region. She spoke with us about care navigators and how they can help patients.

What is a care navigator and what do they do?

Care navigators are experts at teaming up with patients to find solutions. They help patients manage their chronic conditions and navigate the health care system so they can focus on getting well.

Depending on the situation, the care navigator works with each patient to help them schedule and keep their medical appointments, get their prescriptions, and troubleshoot insurance issues. They may also be able to help the patient get connected to community or government programs, such as housing, food, or other benefits.

Care navigators really try to see their patients through a whole-person lens. They work with each patient to find the gaps that people can fall into when they try to get care, and do whatever they can to bridge those gaps.

Can you give me an example of how a care navigator might work to help a patient?

Let’s say you are a patient who needs more support at home, such as help with cooking, bathing, or just getting around. Your care navigator can work with your provider and insurance company to get you the support you need to remain independent at home. Examples might include linking you to a Meals-on-Wheels program for food delivery, or helping you find a way to get to your appointments.

Our care navigators do a lot of work helping patients with transportation. So many people face issues with transportation, and we can help patients get MetroCards or other help to travel to appointments if needed.

Another example I want to highlight is our Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program. If you are struggling with substance use disorder, we know how difficult it can be to navigate recovery. In our Mid-Hudson region, we have two designated care navigators who work only with MAT patients and can help them with transportation, keeping their appointments, or any other issues. Sometimes, what seems like a small problem can make it really difficult to stay in recovery. That’s why our care navigators are here to help.

Can you tell me more about the different types of care management? 

Care navigators can help all kinds of people facing all kinds of health concerns. Our largest care management program helps patients manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. But we also have a cancer screening navigation program in which cancer navigators support patients in getting life-saving screenings completed. At our health center in Harlem, we have a navigator who provides support to patients recently released from incarceration. We also have a program that supports people returning home after a hospital stay.

If a patient gets referred to a care navigator, what does this mean? What can the patient expect?

At the Institute, you will generally be referred to a care navigator by your primary care provider or behavioral health clinician. You can expect to be matched with a care navigator within a week.

At your first meeting, which can be in-person or over the phone, your care navigator will get to know you and work with you to develop a care plan. This care plan is a document that may change over time, but it states your goals and what you want to achieve with your health.

After you and your care navigator have set up your care plan, you can expect to meet with them once a month, or more if necessary. This all depends on the needs of the patient, but you can always expect consistent communication and a clear care plan.

What advice do you have for patients who need help managing their health?

If you think you could benefit from working with a care navigator, let your primary care provider or mental health clinician know. Your provider can make a referral if you are eligible. And if you are not eligible, we will help you look into other options, like community or government programs, or other care management programs, to help you get the support you need.