Health: Local Advancements in Staying Well

A new profession in the medical field helps patients find solutions to more than their health proble

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A new profession in the medical field helps patients find solutions to more than their health problems

As 24-year-old Maple Valley resident Wendy Clement lay in her hospital bed last spring, she was petrified—and not just because of the lumpectomy and mastectomy she had had, both within a week. Looming medical bills added to her fears.

“I was clueless, alone,” Clement says. “I hadn’t had time to deal with finances, and that was a big thing.”

Then Kelly Zant walked into her Overlake Hospital Medical Center room. Zant explained to Clement that she was a free “patient navigator” with the American Cancer Society, someone who could help Clement on many fronts, from connecting her with support groups to finding answers regarding financial and insurance needs, and locating information on her specific type of cancer and its treatment.

Zant, a social worker by training, is a member of a new breed of medical professionals: someone who does not provide direct care, but helps patients with complicated diseases like cancer through the often confusing and exhausting maze of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. In 2008, there were 87 American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program sites across the United States, including six located in medical centers and hospitals in the Puget Sound area. Doctors and nurses don’t always have the time or expertise to connect patients with all the resources necessary beyond direct medical care. That’s where Zant, whose services are paid for in equal parts by the medical center and the American Cancer Society, comes in.

“My role is to identify patient needs, with particular attention to barriers to patient care,” she explains. That can include requests for help with medical research or something as mundane as assistance in getting to and from medical appointments.

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