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Through virtual health visits, nurse navigator is like a member of patient’s family

Nurse navigation

Nurse navigator Lisa Thomas, RN, reviews notes at her office workstation in northeast Wichita as she prepares for a virtual visit with her next patient. She checks the webcam, inserts earphones and with a few clicks of the computer mouse, John Gedraitis appears on her monitor.

“Hello John, how are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” answers her 73-year-old patient from his home 8 miles away. “Ginger has been waiting to talk to you,” he says, as his daughter, Joan, brings one of the family’s 12 foster rabbits into view. 

Thomas and her fellow nurse navigators have a special role: helping coordinate care for patients with complex conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and pulmonary disease. This allows patients to spend more time enjoying life and less time in the ER or hospital. 

Working in partnership with John’s Via Christi primary care doctor, Alan Fearey, MD, Thomas helps connect John to the resources he needs to improve his overall health, from appointments with specialists to consultations with a dietitian or health coach. 

“Lisa is an expansion of my healthcare team,” says John. “She’s like a member of the family now.” 

He considers the personalized navigation he has received since March 2016 as “the best invention since the sliced bagel.” Today’s conversation with Thomas covers his blood sugar measurements, weight, mobility, nutrition — and pet rabbits. 

“At 3 p.m. every day the bunnies and I have our snack,” he tells her. “They have Craisins and I have peanuts.” 

‘… another advocate’ 

Now retired, John spent 17 years working for the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, writing about complex medical topics. Even so, as a patient it was difficult for him to chart a clear course through the sometimes overwhelming healthcare system.

“Left to my devices, if I was given a suggestion to call and set up a consultation, I would find some excuse not to,” says John, who welcomes and follows Thomas’ advice. “It’s been a marvelous relationship because I trust her.” 

Joyce, John’s wife of 50 years, appreciates Thomas’ warm smile and her ability to answer questions, broach a discussion and provide suggestions. 

“She’s wonderful support — a great go-between,” says Joyce. “John knows Lisa is another advocate for him.” 

Transforming care 

Complex care navigation is just one of the innovative healthcare models Via Christi is using to provide more personalized care. 

“We’ve developed a smart, coordinated network of physicians, hospitals, outpatient facilities and other healthcare providers who work together to provide patients higher-quality, bettercoordinated care at an affordable cost,” says Ed Hett, MD, Via Christi’s medical director for New Models of Care. “It’s a patient-centered wellness model of care versus the hospital-centric sick care model — and it has really proved beneficial for patients and their families.”

In January 2014, Via Christi launched an accountable care organization to serve Medicare beneficiaries like John and its own associates enrolled in Via Christi’s health plan. It has continued to grow and, as of July 1, Via Christi’s Healthier You will be the preferred network for Spirit AeroSystems’ Wichita-area employees. 

For Spirit, it’s a way to ensure that the healthcare it’s purchasing on behalf of its 10,000 area employees is high quality and high value. 

For John, it’s made all the difference to be at the center of a caregiving team, all working to help him manage his care. 

“It has broken down a lot of barriers,” he says. “Things are going beautifully. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

About Melissa Lacey

Kansas born; mother of two; communications professional for Ascension Via Christi.