The Holy Grail in U.S. health care today is quality care at a reduced cost. Certainly, advances in technology have driven progress in this regard. But these demands have also opened up new professional positions related to managing health care delivery—including that of care coordinator.
Care coordinators (also called patient navigators or case managers) work as liaisons between providers and patients in order to provide the best care possible, says Honor Martin, RN, MS, vice president of clinical services at Aspire of Western New York. Successful patient outcomes often depend on things that lie beyond following a physician’s recommendations and taking the proper medicines as prescribed. Good nutrition, adequate social support, and even access to transportation and technology greatly influence the end result. Care coordinators help manage schedules and costs, solve problems, create efficiencies, and provide patients with a comprehensive understanding of their chronic or complicated medical conditions.
“There is a growing recognition that patients, especially in vulnerable populations, need help navigating the system and overcoming obstacles—medical and otherwise—to their well-being,” Martin says. “A care coordinator supports the clinical team. It’s that person’s direct contact with patients, the filtering of information, and the communication of status changes with all members of the team, that reinforces the overall effort to bring patients to a better level of wellness.”
3 Factors Driving Demand
The job outlook for care coordinators is expected to grow 22% by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three significant trends drive this demand:
- The Affordable Care Act. The new law rewards providers who deliver improved patient experiences. Care coordinators focus on optimizing patient experiences, which leads to better ratings and higher reimbursement rates.
- An Aging Population. The health of the large population of baby boomers will become a significant issue, with lots of moving parts and a need to manage costs and expectations. Care coordinators are uniquely suited to deal with the demands of this aging population.
- The Need to Control Costs. The rise in health care costs can only be contained if providers are vigilant and focus on individual patient needs and outcomes. Because care coordinators are at the center of care information, they can help drive decisions that provide the highest quality at the lowest cost.
The Importance of Care Coordinators
Studies have shown that care coordination can deliver significantly better health outcomes as well as efficiencies and economic benefits. “Before, we only looked at health care and health services,” Martin says, “even though we knew that housing , transportation, and other issues had a significant impact on health.”
Martin, who has consulted with Capella University in the development of a degree program and certificate in care coordination, sees care coordinators as bold leaders in health care. “They’re more than simply schedulers—they’re often the linchpin on which a patient’s health care depends on, a hub for information and education, and a resource for both patient and provider,” Martin says.
In the end, the efficiencies and cost controls that serve the provider are just icing on the cake, Martin says. It’s the effectiveness of treatment and the patient’s overall education that are the true value in adding care coordination to health care systems. “We’re surrounding the patient with opportunities to look at their health care differently,” Martin says. “We want them to become better consumers of health care.”
Learn more about Capella’s care coordination offerings: