By Heather Morse
SJ Magazine (January 2011)
When Catherine East, a healthy woman in her 50s, felt her heart racing during a meeting at work, she knew something was wrong.A subsequent appointment with her primary care physician determined she needed a stress test to address the cause of her irregular heartbeat. East's exam also uncovered another cause for concern: the pesky runny nose that had been bothering her for months might actually be spinal fluid leaking out through her nostril. The only way her doctor could be sure was through a CAT scan.
"I was definitely overwhelmed after the appointment," says East, a resident of Camden County. "I went from feeling fine to being told I needed two serious tests. I wasn't sure where to begin."
That uncertainty was further compounded by East's insurance. Her employer had recently changed policies and, unlike the plan she had been under for years, East was now required to get pre-certifications for procedures like the ones her doctor had ordered.
"I knew I needed to get the tests, but I also knew that dealing with the insurance company to get the pre-certifications - for two different tests with two different doctors at two different testing locations,no less - was going to be a major hassle," says East. "The insurance company's customer service hours were the exact hours I'm at work, and I couldn't spend half a day on the phone in my office trying to get the pre-certifications. I was torn between taking care of myself and my commitment to my job," East continues.
So, like many busy women trying to juggle their career, health and family obligations, she delayed calling the insurance company as long as she could. Only after "putting everything off for at least two months" did the nagging feeling in the back of her mind finally drive East to take action. Still, the over-scheduled mother of two knew she would need help in securing the pre-certifications.
At the urging of a co-worker, East decided to try the patient navigation system offered by Virtua Woman. Through the system, personal health navigators help people like East by calling and dealing with insurance companies, finding doctors and specialists, and scheduling appointments for all types of visits. "To do all that on your own takes a lot of time and effort. With our system, you call us, talk to a live navigator and they'll help you through the process," explains Michael Capriotti, executive director of Virtua's Access Center. "It really is, for lack of a better explanation, a concierge service for healthcare."
The navigators are trained in healthcare procedures, as well as medical terminology and the ins and outs of insurance, says Capriotti. "We've brought in navigators who have a wide variety of experience.We have a navigator who was a 911 operator and two others who were EMTs. We also have a bilingual navigator."
East says the service and helpfulness of the navigator she spoke with was exactly what she needed to "take the burden out of my hands. It was a relief to know everything would be taken care of for me. It took less than 30 minutes to give the navigator all my info, medical history and details on the tests I needed. Less than a week later, the navigator called me back and everything was all set."
While the navigation system is a helpful tool for busy women, it is only one aspect of Virtua Woman. Online at virtuawoman.org, visitors will find lifestyle resources such as articles written by health and wellness experts and a daily feed of health-related news stories to help women stay current with what's happening here in SJ and across the world. In addition, users can shop for and purchase a variety of apparel, wellness and relaxation products, books, baby gear, and more.
"Virtua Woman is also a community where women can share their experiences," says Stephanie Fendrick, assistant vice president of Virtua's Women's and Children's Programs of Excellence. Through posts with other members, women can join or start discussions on topics ranging from exercise and nutrition to child rearing and menopause. It's free to become a member and, Fendrick says, "It's a great way for women to hear about other women's stories and get feedback on the things affecting them and their loved ones."
The online portal also contains an area where users can store, review and manage health records for themselves and their family members. "A woman handling the care for her family can enter information into the personal health record and have a reliable source she can go to. For instance, a mother can store her children's immunization records there so they're always accessible," says Fendrick.
The personal health record is "evolving, so as you get services at Virtua," Fendrick says, "your health information - doctor's notes, lab and radiology results, discharge reports - can be pushed to your personal health record. It becomes more robust with more information."
Developed in partnership with Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic, the personal health records are stored in a centralized, secure place, says Jane Yepez, vice president of marketing for Virtua. "Your records are totally private and do not reside atVirtua," she explains. "No one has access to your records except you, unless you give someone access. However, you might want to give your primary care physician or a specialist access to help you better manage your care."
The easy access to the personal health record was especially helpful for Amy DesMaretis, a Mount Holly baby boomer who works the night shift so she can care for her elderly father during the day.
"He has a lot of problems: he's had an aneurysm, and he has a pacemaker and diabetes," says DesMaretis. "Keeping track of all his medications, the different doctors he's seen and all the procedures he's had was so hard."
When his health took a turn for the worse earlier this year, DesMaretis says his doctors were able to cull vital information from the personal health record she created for him online. "It allowed connections to be made between his medicine and tests," says DesMaretis. "Because of those connections, there was a quickness of care and we were able to get an appointment with a neurologist without having to wait for all the records to be gathered by his other doctors. It put my mind at ease."