Duke Care Coordinators, Patient Navigators Help You Through Health Challenges

By Morgan deBlecourt
June 08, 2020
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At Duke, an army of people have a very specific job -- making your health care journey just a little bit easier. These professionals guide you and your family through consultations, testing, surgery, and more so you can focus on what matters most, your health.

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“This is a hand-holding process. Having that friendly voice on the phone, someone patients can always reach out to for support or with questions, that goes a long way."

Daniel Cousino, pediatric liver and intestine transplant coordinator

What Is a Care Coordinator?

Although they have many names -- care coordinators, transplant coordinators, nurse coordinators, nurse navigators, patient navigators -- they all have the same purpose of bridging the gap between patients and processes. As the main point of contact for your care team, care coordinators’ responsibilities vary but generally include helping schedule appointments and procedures, joining appointments to translate complex medical language or explain lab results, being available nearly 24/7 to answer questions, and connecting you with helpful resources at Duke and elsewhere.

“No one really wants to go to a doctor or hospital,” said Marika Mathews, who serves as a patient navigator for people being evaluated for epilepsy. “It’s helpful to have someone to help you process the information being given to you and to check in on you to make sure you have the tools and knowledge to successfully work your way through your care.”

Masters of Their Craft

Care coordinators’ professional backgrounds vary from nurses and social workers to administrators and even former patients. Since they usually work with a single condition or treatment, coordinators are experts at shepherding people like you through the steps of your specific issue, starting from the initial diagnosis or soon after. They advocate for your family’s needs, like transportation or concerns about missing work, and do their best to mitigate them. But beyond these more concrete needs, care coordinators also provide emotional support to you and your family.

“This is a hand-holding process. Having that friendly voice on the phone, someone patients can always reach out to for support or with questions, that goes a long way,” said Daniel Cousino, a pediatric liver and intestine transplant coordinator at Duke since 2010. “We’re a shoulder to lean on.”

Making Connections

Every day, Duke’s care coordinators are supporting people with cancer, benign tumors, brain diseases, birth injury and congenital defects, epilepsy, home infusion needs, neuromuscular disease, and sleep disorders. They guide people going through all kinds of health care journeys, from seeking weight loss surgery to organ, bone marrow, and stem cell transplants, just to name a few. Since many of these complex conditions require long-term care, coordinators may be in touch with patients for decades. 

“I get to know these people so well, sometimes I’m talking to them on a daily basis.” Cousino said. “It’s truly a lifelong investment.”

Jessica Beck, an oncology nurse navigator who works with lung cancer and mesothelioma patients, said her ultimate goal is to make sure her patients know that, no matter what, they are not alone in their cancer care. “They have a wonderful team of people working to support them every step of the way,” she said.