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Gwen Northrup, RN, is a Spine Nurse Navigator at the Spine Care Center at Central Florida Regional Hospital.

Coping with a spinal condition can be painful and exhausting. For some patients, surgery is the best option for relief. However, procedures are often complex, and patients benefit from having a spine nurse navigator expert to guide them through the process.

Navigators serve as a central point of contact to help patients through the surgical process as seamlessly as possible. As a member of the care team, they work with other providers to develop a comprehensive, personalized plan for each patient.  

Every patient is unique, so it’s important to address their specific concerns and needs. Some patients are just finding out they have a back issue, while others already know they need surgery. No matter where they are in the process, the navigator guides them through their total care plan.

Emphasis on Communication

Throughout the treatment process spine patients receive care from a team of skilled professionals that may include neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiologists, physical medicine and rehab specialists, physical and occupational therapists, surgical floor registered nurses, critical care nursing teams and diagnostic testing technologists.

Nurse navigators help to streamline communication among these providers, so the patient experience is as smooth as possible. They focus on clear and regular dialogue with patients, from initial contact to up to one year after surgery. For example, patients want to know the risks of surgery and how a procedure will improve their quality of life. Navigators can provide education on the procedure they’re having, address any questions or concerns, assist in scheduling surgeries and connect them with other physicians as needed. In addition, the care team meets with patients after their surgeries to assess their progress.

Preparing for recovery is also an important part of the journey. Patients should tap into a support network of family and friends whenever possible. It’s important to have someone assist them with showering, getting dressed and applying bandages, as well as household tasks like running errands, cooking, cleaning and caring for pets. Most patients experience some pain in the recovery phase, but the pain will subside and their quality of life will improve after surgery.

Enhancing Patient Outcomes

Fortunately, advancements in technology are making the recovery process faster than ever. Surgeons use the latest techniques, including minimally invasive surgery with pre-planning technology, to create a unique surgical blueprint of the spine before the procedure. With state of the art navigation and stabilization, doctors can perform more precise, efficient procedures with smaller incisions. That translates to less pain, faster recovery and the best possible patient outcomes.

As spinal surgery continues to evolve, patients are going home and returning to daily activities sooner than before. Spine surgery can be life-changing, but with the right team of experts, it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

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