Interview with Enrique Garcia, Health Navigator – Silverton Health

July 16, 2015   |  Tags: Blog   |  Tags: Health Navigator , Patient Engagement , Care Coordination , Interview
Enrique Garcia, Silverton Health

Q: If you were introducing yourself at a party what would you say about your job?

As a Health Navigator with Silverton Health I have the privilege of helping patients have a positive healthcare experience so that they will be proactive about their health now and in the future. In particular, my role is to:

  • Guide patients through the medical experience
  • Provide support during what could be a stressful time
  • Support patients through diagnosis and treatment making sure the patient is attending appointments
  • Help connect patients with community resources and services, answering any questions they may have
  • Offer support and education
  • Attend meetings to identify and review care plans for patients in need of my assistance.

In addition, I also spend time with community agencies and organizations to develop relationships so that Silverton Health can help them in reaching people in need quickly and efficiently. These organizations are extremely busy seeing a significant number of people every day, which can make it difficult to get an answer to certain patient needs. Having a good relationship and facilitating their connection to our patients is crucial. With the consent of the patient, I personally work with their care manager so that the patient has a proactive plan for treatment in place. If I didn’t make that connection, there is a high probability that the treatment may never take place. The healthcare landscape is ever-changing. As a Health Navigator with Silverton Health I can make sure our most at-risk patients make the necessary connections to facilitate their continued care. With the success of this program, Silverton Health has added more Health Navigators so that we can assist even more patients.

What do patients think about your role?  And what about other care providers or social service agencies?

The response overall has been positive. Once I talk to patients and explain my services as an extension of their Silverton Health medical team, the patients are usually appreciative and trust develops as the Patient-Health Navigator relationship is established. After several encounters, the patients know they can rely on me to be there when they need me, or if they have questions about non-medical issues.  When they have questions about their medical condition, I connect them with their care management team for prompt responses.

Patients definitely appreciate my role -- they let me know that often. The professionals I deal with at the community organizations appreciate it, too.  They will always ask me who I am – “am I a family member of the patient?”  When the patient tells them I am from Silverton Health they have other questions – “What is your role?  Why exactly are you here?’” One provider recently took my business card because he knew I could make sure their patient kept their appointment, whereas the office had trouble locating the patient in the past. It is definitely a new role that people are just starting to fully understand.  Gauging the success we have had on behalf of the patients, medical teams, and community organizations, it is a model that is working by truly impacting the health of our community both in the medical and professional sense. I think people see that.

What’s the best part of your job?

My job is fun – best job I could ever have hoped for.  My passion is to help people -- it’s who I am and it gives me a lot of satisfaction.  My job is honestly different every day – I have to prioritize my caseload on a regular basis.  That’s actually what appeals to me – the variation and the satisfaction of helping so many people who need it.  They are always so thankful and I am just happy to know they had a great healthcare experience.  Key components to a happy patient are:

  • Informing them about the need for certain recommended examinations by their primary care provider and timely access to such examinations
  • Eliminating any barriers to timely care across the entire healthcare continuum
  • Navigating to help eliminate socio-economic barriers to proper care and support
  • To be able to meet patients and their providers at appointments in order to facilitate understanding and execution for following healthcare directions given by our physicians
  • To let the patient know they have a friend and ally to help them navigate the healthcare landscape

What did you before you were a Health Navigator?

That is a long story!  I am from San Diego and am a very creative and open minded person.  I like cultural diversity, am bilingual, and I have a special passion for helping others -- skills which I use a lot of these days.  I started working for Silverton Health 5 years ago heard about the new Health Navigator program position. I was very interested in the position and took specialized online courses, one of them certified by the State of Oregon. Learn about this program here >>>

What are important characteristics and qualities of a Health Navigator?

A good Heath Navigator is someone who is energetic, genuine and caring.  It also helps to be very creative!  A person who communicates well has the ability to engage people and also to know when to listen. When you listen, patients open up and engage you in their lives, and that is when you identify their barriers to healthcare.  Really it is about being a good human being and serving others.  You also have to care – I make their concerns my concerns and we always find an answer together through Motivational Interviewing. I help them to better understand our care management team and help answer questions they may have about their health at their appointments.  Motivational interviewing is a great tool. Access Institute resources on Motivational Interviewing >>>

In the end, it is a job that requires dedication, patience, knowledge of the myriad of services that may be offered to the patient and more than anything, the ability to teach the patient to navigate the healthcare system. The ultimate goal is that the patient will possess the tools to know where to go, when to go or who they can contact when they need help.

What are Health Navigator roles and responsibilities?

The Health Navigator does not give medical advice. We are not medical providers.  In addition, the Health Navigator does not replace mental health experts or other healthcare providers.  However, the patient should see us as the person whom they trust to help navigate their way through the healthcare system.

A Health Navigator is an investigator of sorts.  Each person is unique and no two cases are ever the same.  Everyone is in a different situation.  I am the voice of the Care Management Team – a coordinator of sorts – I am not working alone, I am part of a team.

How do you develop effective client relationships?

When a Health Navigator enters a patient's room, he should introduce himself and explain his position. This is especially important in a hospital or outpatient clinic, where patients may be seen by several providers.  They may not understand who is responsible for which portion of their care. If the Health Navigator has done their job correctly, there is a mutually respectful – and friendly -- relationship.  The art of talking to patients involves putting them at ease and making sure you are communicating effectively -- all in a short amount of time.

Exemplary hospitality and customer service skills have helped me to do my job and handle very difficult cases. I also have a bachelor's degree in Marketing and a master's in Corporate Psychology in addition to the many Health Navigator training courses mentioned before.

I am notoriously happy and I love to talk and make other people happy as well. We have all been patients at some point, so I understand exactly what they are going through.  When patients say that I don’t understand what they are feeling or experiencing, that’s when humanity steps in.  I share and talk with them about myself and why I chose to work in this field and then, as I mentioned before – I listen.  Once they understand I am there to help (and am not a doctor) the ‘wall’ between us starts to disappear.

How do you maintain professional boundaries?

It’s not hard if you really like what you do.  You also need to learn as much as possible in order to understand your role in a job of this nature.  When I started, it was hard to not take work home – I wanted to help more and more and more people.  I learned quickly that from 8am – 5pm I am a Navigator, but it is important to have my personal life.  If I am happy and healthy my patients will get the help they deserve so that they can achieve their goals too.  

What advice would you have for someone starting in your role?

Be open-minded!  Also, I have found understanding generational differences to be very important.  Bring all your energy to your work – you’ll need it!  Get to know all of the people you will be working with in your healthcare organization and outside as well.  You will need to understand their roles, what each can do and what they can’t do.  Build relationships.  Be emotionally prepared – a lot of your patients will have a lot of needs.  Be positive – there is always an answer, there is always a way.  Be thankful that you will make a difference in the health of people in need every day.

Is your organization looking to bring on staff in a similar role?  Check out these resources on the role of a navigator and how to integrate them into your organization.

Enrique Garcia has been a Health Navigator in the Care Management Department at Silverton Health for more than two years.  Kate Elliott, Institute Program Director interviewed him to learn more about his role, and how he helps their primary care providers with patients who may otherwise  be overlooked or have trouble navigating the healthcare system.