Patient Navigation Improves Time to Diagnosis Resolution and Treatment Initiation

Editor’s note: According the the NCI, “Patient Navigators are trained, culturally sensitive health care workers who provide support and guidance throughout the cancer care continuum. They help people ‘navigate’ through the maze of doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, insurance and payment systems, patient-support organizations, and other components of the health care system. Services are designed to support timely delivery of quality standard cancer care and ensure that patients, survivors, and families are satisfied with their encounters with the cancer care system.” This article from the ASCO Post describes research that found specific benefits for cancer patients who received help from patient navigators.


“In the Patient Navigation Research Program study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Freund et al found that a patient navigation intervention improved diagnostic resolution and timely treatment initiation in a clinical population comprising predominantly racial/ethnic minorities and publicly insured or uninsured patients.

“Study Details: The study compared patient navigation with usual care in 10,521 patients with abnormal breast, cervical, colorectal, or prostate screening tests and 2,105 with cancer or precancer diagnosis seen at nine centers between 2007 and 2010. The centers recruited patients from care sites that were predominantly community health centers.

“Patient navigators developed individual strategies to address barriers to care and track patients through medical evaluation with a focus on timely diagnostic resolution and initiation of therapy. Navigation was started after a clinician informed the patient of the abnormal test result.”

Defining the Roles and Responsibilities of Patient Navigators

Patient navigation, which helps patients overcome barriers to accessing care, is growing in importance, particularly in cancer care. Patient navigators, sometimes also called patient advocates, health care advocates or consultants, or medical advocates, aid patients in finding doctors, understanding treatment and care options, dealing with medical paperwork, maneuvering insurance, and more. However, the exact roles and responsibilities of patient navigators remain ill-defined. In a recent article, a committee of cancer care providers, educators, and cancer research centers, led by the George Washington University Cancer Institute, lays down a consensus framework defining the roles and competencies of patient navigators and clarifying their place in the health care system. This framework is intended to help standardize the patient navigator profession.