At FMH, we’ve always been proud of our cancer programs and particularly proud of our Center for Breast Care. One of the pillars of our breast program is the patient navigator, a health care professional whose sole mission is to step in and guide patients through the medical maze stretching out before them. Navigators answer questions, make appointments, identify resources of all kinds, and serve as a liaison between the patient and the health care team.
Over my 19 years of practice at the Washington Hospital Center, my patients and I benefited from the hard work of navigators who played integral roles in may of our tumor site specific cancer programs. When I arrived at FMH this year, I was gratified to see the same approach to patient care and patient navigation.
Now, a recently-published George Washington University (GWU) study of breast cancer care has demonstrated that patient navigator services trim days off the time it takes to get a diagnosis, and encourage women to get additional tests, when needed. Navigators also helped patients overcome obstacles to receiving needed care, such as lack of insurance or child care.
2,600 women at nine hospitals and clinics in Washington, D.C were studied. For navigated patients, it took an average of 25 days to receive a diagnosis, while women without navigators waited an average of 42 days. Women who needed a biopsy received a diagnosis in 27 days with navigation, while non-navigated women waited an average of 58 days for a diagnosis. At FMH, our patients currently receive a diagnosis in 20-23 days. While that’s very good, we are working on several fronts to bring that time down even further.
The study’s lead author, GWU Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Heather J. Hoffman, stated “A quicker diagnosis of breast cancer often translates to faster treatment and might give women a better shot at survival.”
The findings build on previous research showing that navigation services can help low-income women overcome barriers to timely breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, such as a lack of health insurance. Navigators benefit patients who do not have barriers to care, as well. Coordination, education and psychosocial support all result in more timely care and a superior patient experience.
The study noted that patient navigators’ services are not currently reimbursable, but should be. At FMH, we provide this service regardless, because we believe it’s necessary to provide the kind of care our patients deserve. We are expanding navigation services to help those patients with lung and prostate cancers. Over time, we plan to have navigators for all the types of tumors that we treat.
Last year, the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons required hospitals include a patient navigation process in their cancer programs to receive accreditation. You’ll be pleased to know that our cancer program was just re-accredited by the Commission on Cancer, with commendations in 8 of 8 review categories. We’ve been doing what’s best for our cancer patients, long before it was a requirement. We’ve been doing it, because it’s the right thing to do for our patients and our community.