VHAN Care Navigators Consider Full Spectrum of Patient Needs

For patients recovering from a recent hospitalization, trying to better manage a chronic disease or navigating a complex medical condition, VHAN’s Care Management program offers personalized care that goes beyond simply addressing physical symptoms. VHAN’s team of care navigators consider their mental, emotional and psychosocial needs as well, improving the patient experience and producing more positive outcomes.

“It’s important that we care for people not just by looking at their medical needs but at the person as a whole,” says VHAN Care Navigator Catherine McMullan, RN. “We carefully consider everything that someone is going through and seek to make that personal connection.”

Trained as a nurse practitioner, McMullan brings years of experience to her care navigator role, six of those years in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Like her fellow care navigators, McMullan is skilled at listening to patients and assessing their deeper needs—an ability that can be as helpful to patients as any therapy or medication.

McMullan recently put this proficiency to work with a female patient suffering from colitis flare-ups.

“This patient had been feeling really down, and I knew that Tennessee Donor Services (TDS) had recently provided her with grief counseling,” McMullan says. “Having worked in the ICU. I knew that the reason you are offered TDS counseling is if you have chosen to donate your loved one’s organs. So, I asked her if she recently lost someone, and she said, ‘Yes, my husband.’”

“We talked about the difficult decision to donate a loved one’s organs and everything that goes into that,” McMullan says. “I was quiet and let her share with me.”

McMullan says that she and her fellow care navigators can often sense when patients want to talk about something upsetting them that’s beyond their primary clinical complaint. If a care navigator calls to check in on a patient who then apologizes for going off-topic, that’s when McMullen responds with, ‘No, we’re checking on you as a person, so whatever you’re thinking about today is why I called you.’”

With the patient’s permission, McMullan followed up with her primary care provider. She made sure he understood that the patient was going through a challenging grieving process.  

“When you go to your primary care provider’s office, you usually focus on the clinical reason you’re there, so other concerns can get missed,” McMullan says. “As care navigators, we’re able to reach out to people when they’re in a more familiar, comfortable place—their home—and provide a bridge between their clinical and psychosocial needs.”

After a second conversation, McMullan was able to connect the patient with a social worker. The patient subsequently reached out to McMullan to express her gratitude, saying: “I enjoy talking with you, and I really appreciate you checking in on me. The doctors don’t always have the time to sit and talk to me about everything I’m dealing with, and you are wonderful at that.”

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