Quality Cancer Care

The Patient Navigator

A patient navigator essentially is a problem solver and a highly resourceful individual. A navigator can be a:

  • Trained health care professional (social worker, nurse)
  • Lay individual who can coordinate the needed health care services

The navigator is trained to anticipate, address, and overcome barriers to care and to guide patients through the health care system during a very difficult time.

Patient navigators can help improve the quality of care patients receive, and patient navigation programs may help extend or even save patients' lives. With the help of a patient navigator, patients are:

  • Guided through the complex treatment "maze"
  • Assisted in filling out insurance paperwork or finding transportation to medical appointments
  • Helped to identify local resources (including elder or child care)
  • Given ideas about communicating effectively with health care professionals
  • Encouraged and supported emotionally

The result is that patients with suspicious findings have a greater chance of receiving a quick and timely diagnosis and any necessary treatments. In addition, services may be better coordinated and more consistent, resulting in improved outcomes.1

It is important to define clear boundaries and properly define the role and functions of a patient navigator. Navigators who are not health care professional should NEVER:

  • Provide physical assessments, diagnoses, or treatments
  • Order care, treatments, or medications
  • Attend to or become involved in any direct patient care (eg, changing dressings, providing direct financial assistance, picking up patients for appointments)
  • Provide physical, occupational, or speech therapy
  • Offer opinions about any aspect of health care delivered within or external to the organizations
  • Provide recommendations or opinions about physicians or health care organizations
1Corporate Research Associates Inc. Cancer Patient Navigation Evaluation: Summary Report. March 2004. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Cancer Care Nova Scotia; 2004.