Navigating the health care system is difficult for the average person. The percentage of people who are health literate are well below what one would expect. Add in a language barrier and trying to make your way through health care is that much harder.
The Squirrel Hill Health Center (SHHC) is structured so there is one care navigator and an AmeriCorps member for half of the providers and a care navigator and an AmeriCorps member for the other half of providers. At my site, I am a patient navigator meaning I connect patients with specialty care services. Care and patient navigators’ roles are to guide patients through the health care system.
SHHC is a unique primary care practice in that it has positions to help patients schedule different appointments. Many doctor offices place the responsibility on their patients to schedule appointments even if they are referred to a specific physician. It has become part of my daily tasks to ask patients for their availability, make appointments for them at the closest location, and then notify them of their appointment details. Yet knowing that my position is not at the typical doctors’ offices, daily activities can begin to have reduced significance unless you remind yourself to change your perspective on what you are doing.
One change in perspective occurred when I was talking with a patient. This patient’s referral request got a tad lost in the shuffle of the tasks sent to the care navigators. It was a past due ophthalmology referral so when I saw it, I made sure to do it right away. I called the patient with an interpreter on the line, introduced myself and asked my regular question: “I want to schedule you your eye appointment, what days and times work best for you?” The patient responds with a very colorful tone and I wait for the interpreter’s translation. As I am listening, a smile grows on my face and the patient repeatedly thanked me for simply calling her because it was getting very difficult for her to see. She was so grateful that I called and kept thanking and blessing me.
That is when it dawned on me that some people may not even attempt to navigate the health care system. Whether they feel it is a language barrier or patients do not know what to ask or who to call, all patients deserve access to healthcare services. The unique positions at SHHC have made me realize the necessity in offering patients the option of having someone schedule their appointments to improve their access to specialty services. I look forward to continue to help patients navigate the system in order to schedule their necessary appointments.