COVID navigators helping patients through COVID diagnosis, getting them home from hospital faster

A team of COVID navigators at the Royal Adelaide Hospital is helping patients navigate the complexities of having a COVID-19 positive diagnosis and getting them home faster.

The new Allied Health Professional role started earlier this month and is based on similar roles that were piloted in Victoria and proved pivotal during its pandemic surges.

The role helps minimise the time COVID-19-positive and suspected COVID-19 patients spend in the RAH Emergency Department (ED) and COVID wards by facilitating safe and timely discharge.

It also helps reduce unnecessary re-presentations by COVID-19-positive patients to the ED by linking patients with ongoing services and support.

As an example of CALHN staff’s ongoing agility in the pandemic, COVID Workforce Hub Director Mirella said there was only 24 hours between the request to have the role to someone starting in it.

The team now has seven COVID navigators working 8am to midnight 7 days a week.

Mirella said the role has alleviated some of the ED pressure and given time back to doctors and nurses treating COVID patients in the wards.

“The feedback we get is that it’s freed up a lot of time that was spent trying to chase where patients could go after hospital,” Mirella said.

“In the ED we’ve had a lot of feedback from our nursing colleagues that it’s saved them an incredible amount of time awaiting things like making transport bookings for patients.

“It’s freed up their time to provide the clinical care that they’re there to provide.”

Unlike the Victorian model, Mirella believes CALHN is the first model of its kind supporting in COVID wards and not just the ED.

“This is more of an innovation and that has been an opportunity to coordinate patient’s care, work out what the barriers to discharge might be and how they can access appropriate follow-ups,” Mirella said.

“Up until a couple weeks ago if you were a COVID positive patient and you needed to access something like rehab or disability support there really weren’t very good links back in with service providers.

“Since we’ve had the COVID navigators we’ve managed to find opportunities to get patients the care they need despite their COVID positive status.”

The COVID Navigators have already had almost 500 direct interactions with COVID positive patients, assisting over 100 patients to navigate their COVID-19 diagnosis and its implications for discharge.

“One of our COVID navigators had to support one of the ED patients to get some groceries dropped off at her house and unfortunately the patient didn’t have a credit card that they could use to do an online order,” Mirella said.

“The COVID navigator called around to some local church groups in the patient’s area and found one that was willing to do a grocery drop off.

“It was nice to know through our COVID navigator team we could make sure the patient went home and had access to food.”

Occupational therapist Emily chose to be a COVID navigator because she saw the role as a great opportunity to address discharge barriers and help get people out of hospital.

“In the ED space there’s been some patient education so being able to spend the time with patients who need their questions answered,” Emily said.

“A lot of people aren’t sure what’s ok and at what point do they need to seek help so we can give them guidance on that.

“And for patients that are more high-risk we give them COVID care packages so they can monitor their temperature and oxygen saturation.

“It’s a great opportunity and it really highlights the teamwork of a multidisciplinary team in the hospital, especially in times like these, we all need to be in together to make sure we have the best outcomes.”

Maddie normally works as a physiotherapist and said the COVID navigator role has helped her understanding of what support services are available to people.

Maddie encouraged other allied health professionals to consider applying for a navigator role as it provides insight into how the bigger CALHN service works and assists doctors and nurses who are under pressure.

“It’s been really great to help the ward doctors and nurses when they’ve really been under the pump and I think [they] really appreciate that too,” Maddie said.

“It’s so nice to be able to help people to get home. We don’t want people sitting in hospital unnecessarily and we get to help them be comfortable at home.”

You can find more information about applying for a COVID navigator role here.

A COVID Navigator consult order has been added to Sunrise EMR and the navigators can be contacted on 0422 757 564.