The use of patient navigators — people who help patients receive health care services — improved cancer screening rates among low-income and ethnic minority patients, a new study reports.
“These findings demonstrate how effective patient navigators can be for patients who, for a variety of reasons, encounter obstacles to receiving cancer screening,” said study author Dr. Sanja Percac-Lima. She is physician leader for cancer outreach at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Community Health Improvement.
“Health disparities pose a major challenge to low-income and ethnic minority patients, and our study suggests a proactive approach may help increase their chances of receiving the care they need,” Percac-Lima explained in a hospital news release.
The research included more than 1,600 patients at 18 MGH primary care practices. The patients were overdue for breast, cervical and/or colorectal cancer screenings. They were considered at-risk of not getting the screenings based on previous missed appointments. In addition, their primary language was not English.
Of those patients, almost 800 were assigned a patient navigator. The patient navigator contacted patients in their own language, educated and encouraged them, arranged transportation and accompanied them to screening visits, and helped overcome other barriers to screening.
Thirty-two percent of patients with a patient navigator completed at least one overdue screening. Just 18 percent of patients without a patient navigator completed at least one late cancer screening, according to the study.
“Patient navigators provide a critical bridge between patients and caregivers that enhances and improves care. By employing these types of tactics, we can address critical health disparities for at-risk communities,” concluded Percac-Lima. She’s also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The study was published online recently in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on cancer screening.