Advancing an Uncharted Profession

GWCI Hosts First National Patient Navigation Collaborative Meeting
Harold Freeman
June 14, 2013

The relatively modern field of patient navigation has grown so widely and so rapidly that patient navigators vary in education, skill set, role, responsibility, and even name.

Despite a demonstrated value, the profession — which guides patients through disease screening, diagnosis, treatment, and, in c ancer, survivorship — is not yet a reimbursable service in the health care system and lacks a national training or credentialing standard that would solidify it as a professional field.

In many ways, patient navigation has gotten ahead of itself. But thanks to a recent meeting hosted by the GW Cancer Institute (GWCI), the field is closer than ever to catching itself up.

For the first time since its creation, members of the National Patient Navigation Collaborative (NPNC), an initiative between GWCI, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the University of Illinois (UI) at Chicago, came together to develop a strategic plan that will help to establish patient navigation as an integral part of the health care system.

The meeting, which brought together dozens of professionals from organizations and universities across the country, sought to establish standardized core competencies for patient navigation training programs, develop a phased plan that will meet the goal of NPNC, and devise an approach for implementing the strategic plan through workgroups.

"We're at a critical point, a transition phase," said Steven Patierno, Ph.D., director of the GW Cancer Institute and Co-Chair of the meeting along with Angelina Esparza R.N., M.P.H., of the ACS and Elizabeth Calboun, Ph.D., of UI . "Despite the fact that we come at it from different perspectives, there is now a collective will to speak as one voice and work together to further patient navigation for the purpose of helping patients."

Highlighting the meeting was a presentation by Harold Freeman, M.D., president and founder of the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute. Known as the "father" of patient navigation, Freeman recalled the history of the profession that began in the 1990s when he used patient navigation to reduce cancer disparities among poor women in Harlem, New York.

Freeman outlined the principles of patient navigation, which emphasize patient-centeredness, the integration of a fragmented health care system, access to timely care, and coordination.

"Let's take the evidence we have today to put patient navigation on the map as something that's appreciated and funded by the government," he said. "The endpoint is to save lives of people who would otherwise die."