Navigators: The Human Heart of Virtual Care Navigation

We’re all on our own health journey, but we don’t have to be all on our own. Through digital technology, there are myriad ways organizations can support patients. But when artificial intelligence (AI) and other types of automated digital outreach don’t quite cut it, introducing a human element can make all the difference to a patient’s experience.

Here at Get Well, that human element is found in our Get Well Navigators. These highly trained individuals aid in virtual care navigation — guiding patients to relevant local resources and other information through bi-directional texting and phone calls depending on the patient’s needs. But the work starts well before any type of outreach is made to patients. Navigators are extensively trained and have access to a 360-degree personalized patient profile that captures factors like behavioral, social, personal, and clinical data. 

This comprehensive patient profile features specific engagement data, such as the last time a patient visited their primary care physician, and personal preferences, including language choices. It also incorporates location data, like what relevant providers are practicing in the patient’s preferred location. These personalized profiles enable Navigators to better direct patients along the care journey that is right for them, providing them an experience that is specific to their needs. 

How might this play out in real life? Outreach to patients typically begins with AI-driven text messaging. But when a patient’s question or concern can no longer be addressed by automated responses, the human element kicks in with the Navigators.

Intelligent workflows and back-end alerts escalate the conversation to the attention of a  Navigator who can offer vetted resources and help educate patients on their choices. This extends the reach of care teams via technology but layer in a personalized touch to complement the clinical side of healthcare.

The Navigators assist patients in a variety of ways. One patient may work with a Navigator to schedule a routine wellness visit after receiving reminders of a missed appointment, while another patient may speak with a Navigator by phone regarding ongoing needs or concerns about their care. Importantly, Navigators are trained to screen patients for social and behavioral determinants of health concerns and mental health considerations, acting as advocates for a patient’s non-clinical needs and providing helpful resources, such as where they can find safe housing or food.

Our empathetic, highly skilled Navigators make up a crucial component of Get Well’s approach to patient engagement; it’s the combination of innovative technology and caring touch that leads to engaged patients and improved outcomes.

Leading with empathy

What kind of person is a Navigator? Above all else, Navigators are caring individuals who provide real, empathetic support to the patients with whom they interact. They take a “people-first” approach to care navigation, seeking to humanize and streamline the healthcare experience. Navigators are often drawn from industries and environments like healthcare, public health, social work, and customer service.

Importantly, Navigators are hired from within the same communities in which they serve. They often have lived experience supporting themselves or others through healthcare challenges, making them passionate about the work they’re doing. This experience helps Navigators help patients overcome what is often a historical mistrust of the healthcare industry and remove cultural barriers in their work with patients. They are also intentionally culturally diverse, with many being bilingual so that they can help build relationships that engender trust and loyalty in a way that is most comfortable and familiar to the patient.

Finally, Navigators receive extensive instruction and practice with skills like communication, emotional intelligence, empathy, adaptiveness, and active listening. This training plays an important role in promoting health equity, ensuring that all patients are treated equally and receive the attention they need for their specific healthcare scenario. With a focus on health equity, specific required trainings are offered around implicit bias and how to navigate difficult scenarios, with the express goal of ensuring that Navigators are well-prepared to be timely, fair, and effective when interacting with patients from every walk of life. 

All Navigators also have access to a digital resource library with vetted resources and module-specific information available at their fingertips, enabling them to provide patients with concrete resources around their own immediate needs. In addition, a HIPAA-compliant Resolution Board helps Navigators quickly view and respond to patient issues, driving communication and accountability between Navigators and healthcare facility teams. This enables escalation to clinical staff to address patient needs in real time.

All of these factors combine to create an environment where patients are provided with the resources and support they require in an empathetic and caring manner that centers their specific needs.

Enabling patient support for individualized care navigation

Because Get Well Navigators are patient facing, rather than provider facing, they are able to offer patients a welcome single point of contact in an otherwise fragmented healthcare system. 

Navigators are intentionally focused on improving the patient experience through personalized support and resources, which necessarily differ depending on need. 

Essentially, they’re looking to close the gap on patient needs, screening to fill in missing elements. How might this look to support whole-person care?

  • Maternity: With maternal health patients, Navigators conduct a pre-delivery needs assessment and SDOH screening and have the ability to connect patients with doulas, facility tours, classes, and other local community resources. They perform check-ins, ensuring maternal patients have what they need, whether that’s parking instructions, help obtaining a carseat, or information on COVID-19 delivery policies. Post delivery, Navigators are there to follow up and assist with areas like breastfeeding and postpartum mental health concerns.
  • Mental health: Patients struggling with mental health challenges find support through Navigator interactions, engagement activities and information, mantras, journal prompts, and continuous check-ins. These tools and resources help aid in coping and were recognized as one of Fast Company’s 2021 World-Changing Ideas.  
  • Inactive patients: For those patients who need help re-engaging with their healthcare provider after a period of time, Navigators lend a helping hand to point them toward where they can find and schedule an appointment, what app to use to make the return to care seamless, and even connecting them with a provider in the local area.

Other active areas that the Navigators work in include primary care, ambulatory, and a health plan-focused program, with a number of others in development.

Let’s take a look at how this plays out in real life. 

#PatientLove in practice

For Gabriela*, a postpartum mom who was feeling lonely over a COVID-impacted holiday season, a brief connection with a Get Well Navigator turned out to be just what she needed. 

On a check-in phone call with a Navigator, Gabriela expressed concern that she was feeling less affection from family members, as compared to past pregnancies; that there had been more tension and more frequent fighting with her husband; and that she felt her strong emotions were affecting her milk production. At the same time, however, she repeatedly dismissed her own emotions, saying she was fine.

The Navigator was able to address her concerns over the course of the phone call. Offered support included:

  • Getting Gabriela to understand that even though she is strong, she doesn’t have to be without support
  • Encouraging her to call her OB and ask for postpartum support rather than waiting for her next appointment
  • Providing specific information for the lactation clinic and Mommy Meetup support group at Gabriela’s local health system

“She seemed happier by the end of the call and thanked me for listening to her,” wrote the Navigator. “These times are extra tough, so definitely thankful we get to add support for those who need it.”

* name changed; patient story used with permission  

The bottom line for care navigation

While innovative digital health technology helps facilitate patient interactions from anywhere and scale the reach of care teams, it’s the human element of the Get Well Navigators that helps fully deliver on our promise of providing personalized care for all.

In every case, from managing patient needs and providing resources to answering their questions directly or simply humanizing their path to living better, Get Well Navigators help people feel known, valued, and heard, throughout their care journeys.