Patient Navigation Examined

Patient navigation experts from across the country, including NASW Senior Practice Associate Karyn Walsh, gathered in Atlanta in March for the first-ever National Patient Navigator Leadership Summit.

The purpose of the summit was to develop standardized outcome and process measures applicable to all types of patient navigation programs and health care institutions.

Patient navigation is individualized assistance offered to patients, families and caregivers to help overcome barriers to care and facilitate timely access to quality health and psychosocial care.

According to the summit’s advisory council, common metrics will improve patient navigation by providing an evidence-based approach from program planning through evaluation and research. They also will make it possible to conduct comparative effectiveness analyses, the advisory council said.

Walsh, who’s a member of the summit’s advisory council, told NASW News: “While patient navigation is primarily concerned with helping patients who are challenged with health disparities to access cancer care, there’s a national movement to provide patient navigation across the spectrum of diseases.”

She called the timing of the summit fitting; it began the same day that President Barack Obama signed health care reform into law.

“With the expansion of health care coverage to millions of additional people, navigators will play a vital role in helping underserved individuals access health care,” said Walsh.

Summit attendees focused on examining the roles of professional and lay patient navigators to reduce disparities in cancer care.

“Developing common metrics will ensure quality of care for all patients and will clarify the role of social workers, who comprise one-fifth of the patient navigator workforce,” Walsh said.

Work on developing performance measures for patient navigation will continue through the summer. When they will be made publicly available hasn’t been determined.

In related news, NASW, the Association of Oncology Social Work and the Oncology Nursing Society recently issued a joint position statement clarifying the roles of oncology nurses and oncology social workers in patient navigation.

The statement says: “Nurses and social workers in oncology who perform navigator services should have education and knowledge in community assessment, cancer program assessment, resolution of system barriers, the cancer continuum, cancer health disparities, cultural competence and the individualized provision of assistance to patients with cancer, their families, caregivers and survivors at risk.”

Furthermore, “Navigation services can be delegated to trained nonprofessionals and/or volunteers and should be supervised by nurses or social workers.”

The position statement in its entirety is available for download (PDF).