Overview: As chronic disease and comorbidities increase, so does the complexity of patient care.This complexity requires interdisciplinary care teams and multifactor interventions to ensure that patients get the most efficient care. Patient navigators-defined as individuals who help patients move through the complex care continuum-can improve access to care and patient engagement, which can translate into better outcomes. Health information technology (health IT) can support timely communication and information sharing for patient navigators and the providers with whom they interact to better coordinate care. We explored the health IT that patient navigators used, how they used it, and their health IT needs in community-based interventions.
Methods: We analyzed three years of qualitative program evaluation data captured though progress reports, site visits, and telephone interviews as part of a larger evaluation of community-based demonstration projects. We used inductive analysis to identify preliminary themes to develop a codebook. Using QSR International's NVivo qualitative analysis software (version 11.0), we then used the preliminary themes in a second round of independent coding. We identified themes relevant to navigators and to barriers and facilitators for health IT. Coders achieved a final kappa of 0.8, suggesting excellent interrater reliability.
Results: Navigators used various types of health IT (e.g., health information exchanges, electronic health records, short message service) to capture and share information with the rest of the care team. Navigators used technology to document patient information, track services, and schedule appointments for patients; however, some respondents reported challenges with systems that were not integrated. Navigators must learn to use health IT systems of varying complexity to complete their job duties.
Discussion: Health IT can improve workflow by facilitating task organization and communication with the care team. Ultimately, integrating the health IT systems used by navigators with those used by other care team members was most beneficial. Because of the various types of health IT used, patient navigators should receive training to ensure that they have the technical skills to use these systems efficiently and reduce duplication of effort.
Conclusion: Managing the care of patients with chronic disease requires comprehensive care teams, which can include patient navigators. Integrating navigators' documentation into other health IT systems can keep providers updated on information while patients are outside of the providers' care. With the growth of health IT use in recent years, technical skills are becoming increasingly important. These findings can help leaders who are planning complex health interventions involving navigators to ensure that technology is used efficiently to support coordination and allow navigators to reach more patients.