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    Find a Doctor

Helping patients navigate the medical maze

From the Burlington County Times (8/6/10)

Last Mother's Day, Virtua presented women - whether they're a mom or not - and the men in their lives with a gift that keeps on giving.

It's the health care provider's new website, Visit the site and you can find a doctor, set up medical appointments, read about treatments, and chat with other people who may have the same problem. You can save your own or your family's medical records in a secure location that can be made available to medical staff should an emergency arise. The site is designed for women but men can use it, too.

Most hospitals and health care organizations have websites with information on medical issues and listings of physicians, but they don't have a convenient way to get an appointment online.

Rich Miller, Virtua president and CEO, wanted the four-hospital system serving South Jersey to reach out to harried women who take care of medical appointments for the men, children and parents in their lives but often put off their own health concerns. The VirtuaWoman website was the result.

Carol Wendel of Medford, a freelance writer, has used the VirtuaWoman site to set up a mammogram and appointments for her family. She likes the site's announcements about upcoming health fairs and medical screenings, like the one for osteoporosis.

"The thing I really like is the discussions you can have with other women," Wendel said. "It's great. It's interactive. You can talk to people."

The site is free, but those who join receive benefits. Line up an appointment through the navigator service and you get points. Answer a survey and you get more. The points can be used to receive coupons for restaurants or even Virtua's spa at the Health and Wellness Center in Washington Township, Gloucester County.

Wendel has bought some of the skin-care products offered through the spa's link because they are "healthy, natural - products that I've never seen anywhere else."

Perhaps the most important link is "personal navigator." Personal navigators are the newest trend in health care. Making an appointment with a doctor or for medical tests can be like walking through a maze. Where do you turn? You can spend hours on the phone with your medical provider and insurance company. If people put off tests or doctor visits because of this inconvenience, their health may be adversely affected. The personal navigator takes all that information and lines up the appointments and/or tests.

At Virtua, each patient has one navigator to work with so that person gets to know the patient well. For people with serious conditions, such as cancer or diabetes, a nurse serves as the navigator. The navigator even can help with billing questions by putting the person in touch with Virtua financial counselors, spokeswoman Peggy Leone said.

It's like having a concierge to line up appointments, said Michael Capriotti, executive director of the Access Center where the navigators work. The navigators take into account the person's work schedule, whether she needs help with transportation, and other personal details to help make visiting a doctor or going to the hospital easy.

Capriotti said business for the seven navigators has picked up since the site was launched. The health organization plans to put it on its website shortly.

Virtua has hospitals in Berlin, Evesham, Mount Holly and Voorhees, with surgical and outpatient centers throughout the area.

But if the patient needs to be seen by a specialist not available at one of the centers, the personal navigator will look outside the Virtua network.

Angela Collins, Access Center manager, said she and her staff get a great feeling in helping patients.

"We feel it's really a good thing," she said.