Unsung Heroes: the Role of a Patient Navigator
A rising trend in cancer care is the role of the Patient Navigator, an oncology professional tasked with helping patients and their families navigate the complex system of testing, treatment, and post-treatment care.
Kyle Jones, a reporter from WMTW Channel 8, recently visited Maine Medical Center to learn more about the role of Patient Navigators.
"Patients are not only shocked with their diagnosis, but now they need to understand everything about cancer." said Tracy Robbins, an Oncology Nurse Navigator at Maine Medical Center. "For some patients, chemotherapy is the best option for them. Other patients, depending on the cancer, may have other options such as radiation. We're definitely looking at the big picture with patients, and really trying to understand what impacts them the most."
Patient Navigators make it a point to focus on patient and family education, helping to answer questions about treatment and establish a schedule of care.
Navigators can also help establish a post-care plan, and bring in outside experts including nutritionists and social workers, or arrange contact with community services, such as palliative care or financial and transportation support.
"One of our goals is to assess for barriers to care and ask questions, "Does the patient has issues with transportation?", "Are they adequately insured?", said Robbins.
The idea for Patient Navigation is credited to Harold P. Freeman, a doctor serving at Harlem Hospital in 1990, who noticed that patients were getting lost in a disjointed system of treatment centers and service agencies. In the past, doctors, nurses or even family members handled non-treatment issues for cancer patients. But as cancer care has become more complex, the need for a patient advocate who understands the system has become increasingly necessary, especially for poor or uninsured patients who rely on outside assistance from government or charitable programs.
"The role of a Patient Navigator is to stay with that patient, from diagnosis through survivorship.", said Robbins. "Once the patient has treated their cancer, hopefully, we can follow them all the way through and make sure they get the follow up care and support that they need."
According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, cancer patients with access to Navigators saw improvements in their health with four key findings:
- Patients had higher screening rates and faster diagnosis confirmation times
- More patients began treatment within 90 days
- Patients reported improved quality of life and increased satisfaction with their care
- Financial and mental health issues were identified as significant barriers to cancer care
Recognizing the importance of "complete cancer care" for patients, Maine Cancer Foundation is pleased to provide $629,248 in grant awards to support four Patient Navigation programs for areas of the state that previously lacked comprehensive navigation service:
- The Early Patient Access Navigator at The Aroostook Medical Center
- Franklin's Navigator Program for Colorectal Cancer Screening at Healthy Community Coalition of Franklin County
- Eliminating Barriers to Cancer Screening through Use of Navigator Medical Assistants at Penobscot Community Health Care
- Sebasticook Valley Health Navigator Program at Sebasticook Valley Health
Thank you for your generous support for these efforts, your donations help ensure the best possible treatment is available to the people of Maine.