What Is A Patient Navigator?

The first patient navigator program was launched at Harlem Hospital in 1990 by surgical oncologist Dr. Harold P. Freeman after he witnessed too many women with late stage breast cancer that he wished had been caught earlier. Freeman wanted to break down barriers to cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care faced by undeserved populations.

What kinds of things do patient navigators do?

Patient navigators work with patients and families to help with many different needs associated with the health care system. This may include helping with insurance problems, finding doctors, explaining treatment and care options, going with patients to visits, communicating with their health care team, assisting caregivers, and managing medical paperwork.

Community health workers typically focus on community education and help people understand the importance of screening and how they can access resources. Others actually help schedule screening tests, address barriers, and provide follow-up education.

Not every patient navigator does all of these things, and there is no single list of services.

The original goal of patient navigation was to help people overcome barriers like poverty, low literacy, or lack of health insurance that were preventing them from gaining access to medical care. However, care for illnesses like cancer can be so complicated that patients, regardless of income or education level, can benefit from navigation. In fact, under a new requirement for accreditation by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, cancer centers must now provide patient navigation services.

Some patient navigators are nurses assigned patient navigator roles at the hospitals where they work. Others come to the profession without a medical background and are trained by organizations like the American Cancer Society in collaboration with a partner hospital in their community.

The roles of a Patient Navigator may be slightly different at the Kenyatta National Hospital but the purpose is the same.

Read more about the American Cancer Society Patient Navigators