Demand grows for care coordinators in primary care

Dr. Grace Chen's frail and elderly patients can be bewildered by the automated phone directories of their healthcare providers and may give up before getting through for help. Understanding their new medications can overwhelm them. And they may miss medical appointments because they lack transportation. Their confusion and anxiety can end with a trip to the emergency department.

Chen, a geriatrician at the UCLA Health System in Los Angeles, previously worked with clerical assistants to handle her patients' questions and help them with their healthcare logistics. That often took a lot of their time each week.

This changed three years ago when UCLA Health System started hiring full-time care coordinators to work alongside doctors in its primary-care clinics. Care coordinator Maya Arnaout, who has a background in patient services and clinic management, now handles the calls and concerns from Chen's patients, addressing gaps in care and communication as patients move from clinic to home to pharmacy to hospital. 

“We have a lot of patients who love Maya more than their doctors,” Chen said. “That's because Maya has the time to sit and talk to them and really address their needs.”

UCLA now has 24 comprehensive-care coordinators in its ambulatory primary-care practices, a UCLA spokeswoman said. They come from varied backgrounds, including some who have worked as medical assistants, social workers, emergency medical technicians and pharmacy technicians. UCLA looks for people with excellent critical-thinking, interpersonal and communication skills, a passion for serving people and empathy.

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