Patient navigators

Program basics

  • Provides culturally sensitive assistance and care coordination in order to guide patients through available medical, insurance, and social support systems
  • Usually implemented by hospitals or clinics and may be fully integrated into a primary care team
  • Most commonly used in cancer care, often serving low-income or disadvantaged patients
  • Also known as "system navigators"

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Proven (highest tier)

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Proven (highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

Low- and moderate-income adults and families

Program cost

Not available

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

1990-present

Outcomes and impact

  • Increases rates of cancer screening, especially for breast cancer
  • Improves adherence to breast cancer screening recommendations, diagnosis follow-up, and treatment
  • Improves quality of life after cancer diagnosis
  • Increases screening rates for colorectal cancer and cervical cancer, especially when implemented in conjunction with patient education
  • Eliminates barriers to cancer care and can be effective for disadvantaged and minority populations, including blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, non-English speakers, and those with limited English proficiency
  • Decreases disparities in screening rates by improving screening among Latinos and non-English speakers
  • Eliminates disparities in diagnostic resolution delays based on employment, housing, and marital status

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review
  • Regularly update screening and patient tracking infrastructure, including advanced technology and new methods of screening
  • Facilitate conversations between health care providers and patients to generate sustainable relationships and build patient confidence
  • Prioritize not only initial consultation but also follow-up with patients
  • Train staff on a mix of community and clinic-based topics such as communication skills, screening education and guidelines, patient counseling, cultural competency, and social support as well as study protocol and human subject training
  • Employ community-compatible staff, with respect to language, culture, socioeconomic status, and gender
  • Develop a more patient-centric approach by exploring multiple options to maintain contact with patients including phone calls, text messages, home visits, video calls, based on patient needs
  • Partnerships with community leaders, especially in marginalized communities, can foster long-term trust and increase patient participation and can help patients feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing financial concerns

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