Patient navigators reduce diagnosis, treatment delays

Patient navigators could speed up breast cancer diagnosis, according to a George Washington University study that found such services trimmed days off the time it took to get a diagnosis, as well as encouraged women to get additional tests, when needed.

The patient navigators received training to handle patient difficulties, including a lack of insurance and child care, among other obstacles that can cause missed appointments or delayed care.

Researchers looked at more than 2,600 women at nine hospitals and clinics in Washington, D.C., and found that for navigated patients, it took an average of 25 days to receive a diagnosis, while women without navigators waited an average of 42 days.

Moreover, women who needed a biopsy got a diagnosis in only 27 days with extra help navigating the system, while nonnavigated women waited an average of 58 days for a diagnosis, according to the study.

"A quicker diagnosis of breast cancer often translates to faster treatment and might give women a better shot at survival," lead author Heather J. Hoffman, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said today in a statement.

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 no health insurance.

However, the study noted patient navigators ought to be reimbursable to maintain such services.

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. Their patient navigation services must address healthcare disparities and barriers to cancer care, screen for psychosocial distress, document received care and seek to improve quality of life of cancer patients.

To learn more:
- read the research announcement
- here's the study abstract