Navigating to good health
Patient navigators bridge socio-economic barriers and improve access to medical interventions
When 44-year-old Jyothi Reddy, of Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh, noticed a small lump in her right breast, she ignored it as it was painless. Then, the lump started to grow. In September 2020, Jyothi attended an awareness and screening camp on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) conducted by the outreach team of the Tirupati-based Sri Venkateswara Institute of Cancer Care and Advanced Research (SVICCAR), where she was counselled and advised to visit the referral hospital for further diagnosis and evaluation.
SVICCAR is set up by the Tata Trusts in association with Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), to provide comprehensive and affordable cancer care to the patients.
Jyothi's story is not unique. People neglect health conditions, assuming they will go away if ignored. And that is not their only challenge – faced with a diagnosis of a critical disease, or even the hint of one, vulnerable patients flounder. Quite often, they have no one to turn to who can advise them on where to go or what to do. Additionally, fear of the financial burden of treatment means that most give up the idea of further treatment altogether. This is where 'arogya sevaks' or patient navigators can play a very important role.
Effective patient guidance
Patient navigators know the ins-and-outs of the healthcare system and are trained to handle patient needs. They can help patients navigate a complex, and often scary, multi-step process, and ease the logistics of obtaining medical treatment. Working directly with patients and their families, patient navigators offer a helping hand to address the mundane yet necessary tasks such as filling out medical applications or helping patients travel to the hospital or healthcare centre, to more serious issues such as arranging for financial help. The rapport they build with the patients and their families ensures that patients receive timely treatment and adequate care.
Offering support and counsel
SVICCAR has a team of patient navigators who ensure that patients don't overlook their medical conditions. Archana Boligarla is one such patient navigator at SVICCAR. When the outreach team informed the patient navigators about Jyothi's case, Archana was quick to reach out to Jyothi and advise her to proceed with further investigation of the lump. Despite Jyothi's reluctance, Archana did not give up. She continued to call and counsel Jyothi on how important it was to be diagnosed and treated.
Lifesaving medical treatment
Her insistence led Jyothi to visit SVICCAR's out-patient department in October 2020, where she was advised to undergo a biopsy. Post-pathology test results revealed that she had grade III infiltrative duct cell carcinoma. She was taken to SVICCAR's radiation oncologist for further treatment. If it weren't for Archana's timely intervention, Jyothi may never have been able to beat her disease, which was already at a critical stage.
"I try my best to guide them [patients] to receive necessary medical attention. It gives me immense happiness and satisfaction in helping those in need,"says Archana, who has helped many patients like Jyothi navigate the healthcare system to seek the help they need.
By assisting all sections of society, especially vulnerable populations, overcome barriers to healthcare access, patient navigators bridge gaps in transitions of care and help promote better health outcomes for the afflicted.