Whether on land, in the air or by sea, good navigators know how to use all available tools to get their passengers from point A to point B.
As a nurse navigator at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, my job is not so different, except that I steer patients and their families from the point of diagnosis through the maze of treatment, recovery and then back to good health.
Having a liaison between patients with advanced heart disease and their caregivers is critical. Heart disease is the no. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, claiming the lives of 610,000 — about one in four — Americans each year.
The nurse navigator concept was introduced in the early 1990s by a New York doctor seeking to elevate cancer care among the poor. The federal government began offering grants for navigators 15 years ago, and the approach caught on from there.
In Arizona, Abrazo Health was among the early adopters to add this role to advocate for heart patients.
A study reported in 2019 by the American College of Cardiology showed the work of nurse navigators has reduced hospital readmissions and deaths, while increasing the number of patients who keep follow-up appointments.
As navigators, we are the calm in a health storm, providing patients and their families a bridge to the medical team, appointment scheduling, diagnosis and treatment education, wellness information and more.
At Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, most of my patients have arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation or AFib, better known as an irregular heartbeat, or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), an abnormally fast heartbeat.
Risk factors for AFib include age, high blood pressure, underlying heart disease and sleep apnea, among others. For SVT, age may be a factor, along with heart disease, prior heart surgeries, thyroid problems, anxiety and emotional stress.
Numerous patients with arrhythmias are treated with procedures at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital every day. At any given time, I am navigating patients through the process from day one — providing information packets on their conditions, diagnoses, procedures, hospital protocols and anticipated discharge and recovery instructions.
I show them a model of the heart to familiarize them with the specific location of their condition and how the treatment works. I answer questions about everything from the length of the procedure to hospital visiting hours. And I help fill in details of patients’ pre- and post-operative care.
That’s what I’m there for, and the knowledge patients and families gain is a powerful tool in their continued wellbeing.
Once patients have gone home, I call each of them two to three days after their procedures to follow up and answer questions.
Patients have my work cell phone numbers and know they can always call me — day or night, weekends, too.
Additionally, I make and communicate all of their follow-up appointments — one week, 45 days, six months, one year and beyond. The idea is to ensure they are taking steps toward a full recovery.
The value of having someone with a keen understanding of heart disease and the healthcare system guiding patients on their road to recovery cannot be overstated.
But there are rewards for nurse navigators, too.
Among them: when a former patient stops by the hospital years later to say hello, looking happy and well.
Anthem resident Alexis “Lex” Miranda, RN, is an electrophysiology and coronary artery disease nurse navigator at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix. Information. Visit abrazohealth.com.