Help for dealing with cancer issues

Navigator helps patients find access to nonmedical services

Navigator helps patients find access to nonmedical services

December 10, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

A new program at Washington County Hospital will help cancer patients face the nonmedical issues that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Angela Heare was hired as a patient resource navigator, a nonclinical guide available to help cancer patients find services they need as they try to deal with their cancer.

Heare's duties could include helping with transportation and finding support groups, health care at home, child care and medication assistance.

"Often times, cancer patients are diagnosed, but they have no idea where to turn for help," Heare said.

Referrals are not necessary. You don't have to be a patient at the hospital. The program costs patients nothing. Insurance is not a prerequisite.

"Some patients fall between the cracks because they don't know where to turn, they don't know what to ask," Heare said.


Heare said she has made contact with at least 10 cancer patients so far and hopes to build relationships with more.

Heare will only handle nonclinical issues. Nurse Melanie Clifford was recently named oncology care specialist and will help cancer patients with medical issues.

Dawn Ward, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said Washington County Hospital partnered with the South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society to implement the new patient resource navigator position.

There are eight patient resource navigators at hospitals across Maryland, Ward said.

Clifford's position is not part of the American Cancer Society program, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said.

Part of a national program

The program at Washington County Hospital is part of the American Cancer Society's patient navigator program, formally launched in 2005, Ward said.

Generally, according to Mary Ann Van Duyn, program director of the Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, the aim of patient navigation programs is to improve access to health care for people with cancer by providing personal guides who will help people face the psychological, emotional and financial aspects of having cancer.

The Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities is part of the National Cancer Institute, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The patient navigator program is a collaborative effort between the cancer society and groups such as the National Cancer Institute's Patient Navigation Research Program and drug maker AstraZeneca, according to American Cancer Society press materials.

There are 85 patient navigator programs nationwide, said Andrew Becker, an American Cancer Society spokesman, in a telephone interview.

Ward said the regions belonging to the South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society - which includes Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. - refer to the patient navigator program as a patient resource navigator program.

Who benefits from a patient resource navigator?

The American Cancer Society estimates 26,390 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Maryland in 2007 and roughly 1.4 million new cases nationwide.

Van Duyn said that by improving access to care, the patient navigator program can help reduce mortality rates and reduce the number of cancer diagnoses.

The program also can help remove some of the barriers that keep people from receiving proper care. These barriers include lack of health insurance; underinsurance; and lack of physicians or hospitals close to a patient.

Some groups of people - certain racial minorities and low-income populations - are more likely to face such barriers and are regarded as medically underserved in the health care industry, Van Duyn said.

Underserved groups are populations with significantly higher instances of diagnosis and mortality compared with other groups, she said.

Van Duyn said African Americans and Native Americans tend to have higher rates of cancer diagnosis and mortality than whites.

The incidence of cancer diagnosis averages 470.1 per 100,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to National Cancer Institute data. Black men had the highest incidence rate of all U.S. populations, 663.7 per 100,000 men, according to the data.

The American Cancer Society's Ward approached Washington County Hospital about implementing a patient resource navigator program because of the number of cancer cases in the region, Ward said. Washington County Hospital saw just less than 1,000 cancer patients last year, according to Heare.

The number of underinsured and uninsured people and Washington County Hospital's rural location were other factors, Heare said.

Find a patient resource navigator

Angela Heare, a patient resource navigator, was hired at Washington County Hospital to help cancer patients deal with nonmedical issues free of charge.

Reach Heare at 301-790-8145 or e-mail

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