This is the second post in a series on oncology nurse navigators.

The role of the nurse navigator is rapidly emerging as an important one in the universe of patient care. Nurse navigators are a relatively new audience to pharma marketers. Since not many pharma marketers are developing materials for them specifically, your company could gain a competitive advantage by educating, communicating with, and engaging with nurse navigators. This presents an opportunity for pharma marketers, as nurse navigators are highly interested in development opportunities for both self-education and patient education.

Over the past several months, our conversations with pharma marketers, nurse educators, and a wide variety of practicing nurses have unearthed some interesting information about nurse navigators that we find useful as you interact with them.

5. Nurse navigators have extremely diverse backgrounds and credentials.

Because the nurse navigator role was born out of the necessity to triage patient needs, there are a wide variety of nurses represented in the nurse navigator population. A nurse navigator must be a registered nurse, but some are relatively new to nursing while others operate at a senior level and carry the nurse navigator role in addition to several other roles. There are also significant variations in the role across facility types (academic vs nonacademic) and locations (rural vs suburban vs urban, East Coast vs West Coast). As one nurse educator explains, “It isn’t consistent across the nation. What I’ve seen is that everyone runs their practice a little bit differently.” Having worked with this audience since 2009, at Aegis, we understand the diversity and how that influences communicating with nurse navigators effectively.

4. Because the nurse navigator group is so heterogeneous, it can be challenging to customize communications and education at the right level.

Pharma marketers and educators need to really be thoughtful about how much science nurse navigators need to understand in order to get their message across in the tools and educational materials they provide. As we’ve developed educational materials for nurse navigators, we’ve found that the messaging may need to be similar to that for payers or social workers.

3. Nurse navigators are translators and tour guides.

“When you’re first diagnosed, it’s like you’ve been thrust into a foreign country where you don’t speak the language,” explains Danelle Johnston, MSN, RN, OCN, CBCN, Division Director, Oncology Navigation, Sarah Cannon, Austin Texas Market. “You’re wondering, how do I move through this process, this system? My role is really to serve as translator and tour guide. It’s like having a friend on the inside.” Oncology leads the pack as an early adopter of the nurse navigator model, largely because there are more patients, the patients are in treatment longer (and surviving), and the patients see many different clinicians (medical oncologists, infusion nurses, radiologists, laboratory technicians, dieticians, surgeons, etc). Nurse navigators guide patients through every step in the journey. As such, they act as information gatekeepers and a critical conduit to patients.

2. The nurse navigator role is critical to a patient-centric care model.

In her article “The Nurse Navigator’s Patient-Centric Role Within the Medical Home,” Debbie Edson, RN, BSN, writes that “care coordination is more than just medical management. It is a broader set of social and community services that includes navigating the patient and family through the healthcare system.” She goes on to explain that “as the navigator builds a trusting relationship with the patient and family over time, she quickly becomes the ‘go to’ person.” Similarly, as Johnston puts it, “I sit with the patient at the hub of the wheel and help communicate out to all the spokes.” The nurse navigator serves as a champion for the patient and as a key influencer to all members of the multidisciplinary care team.

1. Nurse navigators exert a high level of influence on adoption and adherence.

While nurse navigators do not dispense or prescribe, they do have a powerful influence on patients’ treatment decisions and even act as advocates to the doctor. “I see my role as empowering the patient and their family, helping them make informed decisions and have a sense of control. I also help them prepare for survivorship,” says Johnston. That includes reviewing the treatment options from the oncology team and helping patients understand the plan. Taking this step helps ensure the initiation of therapy and adherence to the treatment regimen, increasing the likelihood that patients successfully complete therapy.

With the goal of helping patients be as comfortable as possible during a difficult time, nurse navigators provide proactive side effect management, which also has a big impact on patient adherence. According to an article in Oncology Nursing News, the oncology nurse navigator (ONN) “functions as an advocate for patients, explaining disease and treatment options and linking patients with resources that will enable them to complete their treatment and maintain or improve their quality of life.”

Here at Aegis Creative, we specialize in understanding nurse audiences and helping pharma and biotech companies actively engage them. Contact us to learn more about nurse navigators and how to effectively communicate with this influential audience.

Next up: Our third post in this series will provide some tips for connecting with nurse navigators.

Read our first post in the series – 3 ways oncology nurse navigators affect patient care (and why you should care)

Sign up for our nurse navigator series below!


Tags: Aegis, aegis creative, disease education, healthcare communications, life science, Medical Communications, nurse navigator, nurses, oncology, Patient Centricity, pharma, pharma marketing

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