blog September 9, 2021
A Closer Look: What It Means To Be A Clinical Trial Navigator
“The ultimate objective is to ensure we are doing everything we can for our patients. We want them to be healthy, outside of research, and I think that is what sets Javara apart. We do those extra little things, and they can have a really big impact.”
For Jennifer Hinojosa, there is no predictable, cookie-cutter, nine-to-five workday. Why? Because every aspect of her day revolves around patients. “If I have a patient first thing in the morning at 8:00am, then I’m here at 7:30,” she explains. Jennifer uses that time before her first patient arrives to make sure she is prepared with all the necessary study equipment, forms, medications, and devices. “Anything I need for that study, I make sure I have it all set out,” she explains. “I want to make sure everything is ready. That is the best way to ensure a study visit goes as smoothly as possible.”
According to Jennifer, a Clinical Trial Navigator (CTN) located at San Marcos Family Medicine in San Marcos, Texas, organization is key. “You have to be organized, super organized. If you’re organized a visit can still go well, even if roadblocks or challenges do arise. Because if you’re organized, you’re ready for those things.” But Jennifer isn’t only referring to personal organization. As a CTN, her ability to stay organized is critical to support the investigators and their overall functionality and success as a collective research team.
“Communicating with our physicians is integral. As CTNs we are very much embedded in the clinic, maximizing collaboration and therefore also the continuity of patients’ care.”
Which is also why, every morning after she has prepared all necessary study materials, Jennifer ensures she has connected with all the physicians. “I make sure they are aware of what patients are coming in that day, and at what times. If we have any leads that day, I make sure they are prepared to speak about the possibility of study participation.”
San Marcos Family Medicine has a very “hometown feel,” as Jennifer describes it. “We’re trying to bring research into the community as a viable healthcare option. That’s our whole mission, both for Javara as well as our Primary Investigator, Dr. Lee.” The Javara model is built upon the idea of integration, bridging the gap between clinical research and clinical care, with CTNs like Jennifer working as an extension of the other professionals in their facilities. The care they provide is not limited by the scope of the research itself; it extends far beyond. “Say for example, we have been screening patients, and we notice that an individual hasn’t been in the clinic for a while. What do we do? We call them,” Jennifer explains. They may have found that patient’s name through their data repository for a particular study, but if the necessary action needed to holistically care for that patient is one that falls outside the realm of the clinical trial? It is still the action Javara CTNs will take. At times, a call to a patient may not include mention of a study at all. Instead, the conversation may be filled with questions such as: Is there anything we can do for you? Can we help you set up an appointment? Are there any reasons why you haven’t come in lately?
“We want to see what is going on with our patients. Even though at times yes, it may benefit us by putting them on study, the ultimate objective is to ensure we are doing everything we can for our patients. We want them to be healthy, outside of research, and I think that is what sets Javara apart. We do those extra little things, and they can have a really big impact.”
As a CTN, Jennifer not only has direct communication with the providers, but she also has more time to spend with patients themselves. As a result, according to Jennifer, “patients confide in us.” In turn, this provides CTNs the opportunity to share more information with the doctors and enhance the continuity of care. “Patients tend to open up to us more,” she explains. “They will tell us ‘Oh, and I’ve been feeling like this, and this has been happening, and I forgot about this…’ and none of that is mentioned in their chart.”
Jennifer visits with or calls patients every day, and sometimes the conversations don’t include research at all. “We had a patient recently who we noticed wasn’t taking their medication the way they should have been…so with situations like that, we shift away from research mode to think holistically and ask why. Why isn’t this patient taking their medication?” According to Jennifer, what followed that initial question was an hour-long conversation, one that illuminated invaluable context. “We learned their spouse had just passed away. It was hard for them to come in and get their medication. They were having trouble remembering. And not just to take their medication; they were struggling on a much larger scale.” Jennifer’s compassion, her guidance, made an immense difference for that patient. “She was just so appreciative that I was listening to her,” Jennifer explains. “For some odd reason, as CTNs, people just really like to open up to us.”
That reason, of course, is not odd at all. It is part of what sets Javara’s CTNs apart from other research coordinator roles. Their primary focus is the heath of patients, the wellbeing of patients, within research and far beyond.