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When a doctor isn’t enough

The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2011

When Judith Nakamura tried to see a surgeon to follow up on her treatment for breast cancer recently, she was told it would be a two-month wait. Colleen Sullivan-Moore stepped in and got Ms. Nakamura an appointment the following week. Sullivan-Moore, at Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, NM, heads a team of nurse navigators. Their job: to help steer cancer patients through the medical-system maze. Over the course of Nakamura's seven months of treatment, Sullivan-Moore helped her understand the diagnosis and overcome her fears. The Presbyterian service, with four nurses and a social worker, is part of a growing field known as patient navigation. At no additional charge, navigators help patients make informed medical decisions and assist with setting up multiple doctors' appointments and tests. Navigators also provide tips on dealing with chemotherapy, make sure patients stay on track with their treatment plan and offer emotional support.