Allison Shere had just moved from Aventura to Miami Beach when she realized it was time for her yearly gynecological check-up.
She wanted to find a new doctor, someone close to home, and preferably a female with many years of experience. So she went online and searched.
“I looked on Google and there were so many sites, all sorts of ways to find doctors, and some of the information people write on those sites isn’t true,” said Shere, 42. “It was really hard to get true info on doctors.”
Eventually, Shere found the page for a new, free program at Mount Sinai Medical Center that guides female patients through finding the right care and navigating the bureaucracy of setting up appointments. Frustrated with her Internet search, Shere decided to give the Women’s Centered Care program a shot, and called the phone number.
Her call was answered by Raluca Milostean, a patient navigator who asked careful questions before setting up an appointment with a physician who is part of the Women’s Centered Care network. Shere was impressed by the quick and helpful response.
What happened next is illustrative of the mission of the doctors and healthcare professionals behind the new program, which launched in March.
On the day of Shere’s appointment, the physician’s office called to cancel because of an emergency birth the doctor had to attend to.
“I’m like, that stinks. I had to reschedule it for two weeks later,” she recalled.
But 48 hours later Milostean, the patient navigator, called Shere to ask how the appointment had gone. Shere told her the story, expressing her disappointment. Milostean asked whether she’d be willing to see another gynecologist who met the same criteria they’d established earlier, if it meant an appointment that same day.
Shere agreed and one hour later was in another doctor’s office.
“It was fabulous. The doctor was great, very gentle, and took the time to talk with me afterward,” she said a day after her appointment in mid-June. “If they hadn’t called to ask I’d still be waiting to see the other doctor.”
The idea for Women’s Centered Care came after several months of discussions among a group of newly hired female doctors and healthcare professionals at Mount Sinai who shared an interest in gender-specific medicine and finding ways to make it easier for women to get the right care.
Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez, who chairs the program, said that too many female patients get lost in the process of navigating hospitals, and as a result don’t set up necessary follow-up appointments with specialists.
“Women are so busy taking care of their families that sometimes they put their needs last,” said Rodriguez, an oncologist. “We thought that if there was an easier way for patients to reach us, that we could coordinate things better between the different specialties.”
There are currently 16 physicians in 11 specialties, mostly women. All have an interest in how the diseases or issues they specialize in affect female patients. They have also made a commitment to giving extra time to the patients who go through the Women’s Centered Care program.
“Women are sometimes afraid to ask all the questions they want to ask, so we wanted people who are receptive, and will give the patients more time to discuss all of their concerns,” Rodriguez said.
Mount Sinai’s administrators also got on board, and are supporting the program with eight patient navigators like Milostean. Milostean, a navigator at Mount Sinai for five years, said her mission is to put herself in the shoes of the patient.
“I’m a woman as well, and I would be so grateful if I could find someone who would help me right away,” Milostean said. “Sometimes you are thrown at something and don’t know where to go. I treat all my patients like they’re VIP, help them through the system and try to make them happy.”
The navigators also respond to patients’ questions about their healthcare coverage.
“The healthcare system has changed so much and is changing really fast right now,” Rodriguez said. “We know what insurances the doctors in our network take, so we can tell the patients, ‘Three doctors take your insurance. Let’s start there.’ And if there is no insurance, we have financial counselors who could guide you through applying to Medicare or Medicaid.
“At least you’ll be dealing with people who know the answers.”
Since its March launch, about 50 patients have gone through the program.
“We hope we will reach more women because we think we have something special to offer,” Rodriguez said. “It will save time. We know people don’t have time these days to get everything done in one phone call.”