Healthcare can be a daunting and complex system to navigate even in the best of circumstances for those at the top of their wits.
At the close of 2017, Carson Valley Medical Center created a new role — the Patient Advocate — to help patients navigate their way through the system when they run into complications.
“We recognized that the healthcare system can be confusing for patients,” said CVMC Director of Development and Outreach Shannon Albert. “We work in it every day and it can still be confusing when we become patients ourselves.”
“We created this position to alleviate some of that confusion. We wanted someone to be the point person for when patients had questions on referrals, processes, financial concerns or complaints or concerns about any aspect of their care at CVMC facilities. We wanted someone in place to help answer those questions or get patients pointed in the right direction.”
CVMC turned to James Courtney, who was working as an insurance verifier within the organization but also had a background working with the Salvation Army rehabilitation programs in the Bay area and serving with the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s office as a case manager in the foster care system and later in a human resources capacity.
“James was working for us in insurance verification — and there is probably nothing more complicated than figuring out insurances and coverages — but he was also really well suited in his background and experience toward filling the Patient Advocate role we were hoping to create,” Albert said. “He has that ability to dig in and find solutions to patients concerns in a timely and empathetic manner.”
For Courtney, the attraction to the new role was simply the level of engagement he’d get to have with the people.
“Helping people and being that navigator to help them get through things has always been fairly natural for me,” he said. “It has always been something that I have really enjoyed. I’ve loved working here at CVMC, especially getting to work in the community I live in, and be a part of the community and helping others.”
“The support here with this organization, just being able to ask questions and get good answers, has been phenomenal.”
It has been a quick and steep learning curve for Courtney, essentially becoming the public’s cipher of the inner-workings of the community healthcare system.
“The community has been great,” he said. “If you tell them, ‘I don’t know your answer, but give me a few minutes and I’ll get right back to you,’ they’re very open to that.”
“The medical system, whether it be insurance, or the billing process or something else entirely, can be very confusing. It’s frustrating as a patient when you don’t know what is going on, or if you start to feel like you don’t have a voice in the process. People like having a sounding board.”
Courtney said a large portion of his role is bettering communication between parties and helping to bring acceptable solutions to formal grievances and complaints.
“We want to be able to identify areas where we can improve our services for everyone.”
“Every case is different, but regardless, I keep in constant contact with the patient to let them know where we are and how the investigation is going. We don’t want anyone to feel out of the loop or to feel like they’ve just voiced their concerns and that is the end of it. Contact and communication are key factors.”
Courtney can be reached at 775-782-1606 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I love hearing from people, whether their experience was poor or great, or just could have been improved a little,” he said. “Input like that only help us as an organization to get better.”