Research and experience have shown the important role navigators can play in patient care. Acting on this knowledge, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer has established a new accreditation standard that will require cancer programs to offer patient navigators. It is one of several new patient-centered accreditation standards instituted by the Commission on Cancer that will go into effect in 2015.
Navigators help patients throughout the cancer care process, from screening through treatment. Some cancer centers use nurses as patient navigators. Others hire a staff specifically for this purpose. Still others train interested volunteers.
“These new standards are a verification of the demand for patient navigators,” says Matt Mumber, a radiation oncologist at the Harbin Clinic in Rome, Ga., who developed the clinic’s navigator program for cancer patients in 2009. “They also are an affirmation of the value of navigators in addressing patients’ psychosocial needs.”
The National Cancer Institute’s Patient Navigation Research Program funds institutions that evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of patient navigators in low-income, rural and minority communities. This research has shown that navigators can be particularly helpful to these patients. In one study, Karen Freund, an internist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, and her colleagues investigated whether a patient navigator program at community health centers in Boston helped women who had an abnormal breast or cervical cancer screening test get appropriate follow-up care. Freund’s team found that the navigators had an immediate impact on women with abnormal cervical cancer screening tests. They also benefited women who hadn’t obtained follow-up care within two months of an abnormal breast cancer screening test. These “women who had not sought treatment earlier did so with the help of a navigator,” says Freund.
Patient navigators perform many services. They may be trained to help you:
- Better understand your diagnosis and treatment.
- Coordinate doctors’ appointments.
- Address financial barriers to receiving care.
- Arrange transportation, lodging or child care.
- Identify programs that can provide additional support and assistance.
If your hospital or clinic does not provide navigators, you may want to see if a local nonprofit cancer organization offers patient navigator services. Resources for finding navigators include:
American Cancer Society
Offers a free service that connects patients with patient navigators at cancer treatment programs.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Has a resource center that makes trained information specialists available by phone to answer patients’ questions about diagnosis, treatment and clinical trials.
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Provides patient navigators at health facilities nationwide.
Mary Kate Fuller, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011, knows firsthand the power of patient navigation. “When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t think I needed any help,” Fuller recalls. “But I found that talking to the navigators [at the Harbin Clinic] and accepting the resources they offered made me feel better during an emotionally difficult time.”
June 27, 2014