Wellness Navigators: The Way of the Future



Guest Post Written By: Katie Nelson

In 2012, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation initiated the Wellness Navigators program at the Mayo Family Clinic in Kasson, MN. Wellness Navigators is a clinic-embedded service, consist of volunteers who help connect patients with resources, in order to address social determinants of health. With preparations underway for a shift towards enhancing the patient experience and reducing the per capita cost of care, the Wellness Navigators service helps achieve both of these goals.

Social determinants of health have a significant influence on the development of medical conditions, and a person’s overall well being. These social determinants can include key aspects of a person’s living situation, their economic situation, work circumstances or their lifestyle in general. Often times, patients medical issues are affected by one or more other social factors. So, this is where the Wellness Navigators come in. These outside needs can be better addressed by embedding the Wellness Navigator volunteers into the clinical setting.

The Wellness Navigators are responsible for connecting patients with community and social service resources that are not directly overseen by the clinic. Patients feel much more cared for, knowing that not only are their medical needs being met, but also their social needs as well. Physicians generally do not have lots of spare time to sit and have conversation with their patients. However, Wellness Navigators are able to take the time to dig deeper to find out about other factors that could be potentially impacting patients’ health. “It seems like when you go to the doctor they care about one aspect of you; they don’t care about your personal life. It was nice to have someone care for me on an emotional level,” one patient claimed. Simple conversation, to let them know they are cared for, makes their experience in the clinic much more worthwhile. Moreover, having the Wellness Navigators assist the patients with these types of social needs, allows the medical team to spend more time focusing on their medical needs.

This service then also helps reduce the cost of care by identifying specific social barriers to patients’ health. Wellness Navigators utilize clinic and non-clinic resources within the community that can help prevent medical conditions from developing and/or worsening. In the long term, this program could potentially save patients money by preventing them from having to seek medical attention frequently.

Having been a Wellness Navigator myself, I can attest that this is a crucial service in the clinical setting. Being a Wellness Navigator allowed me to get to know the patients for more than their medical condition. Being able to connect patients with community resources was a rewarding experience. Integrating Wellness Navigators into every clinical setting would help achieve two major goals: they help improve the overall patient experience, and help reduce the cost of care in the long run; it’s a win-win for everyone.

Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester.