In July 2022, the American Cancer Society (ACS) awarded $4.2 million in grants to select hospitals. These hospital locations are scattered across the country. Each hospital will receive $300,000 for patient navigation in its cancer program. ACS intends for this patient-focused initiative to improve equality in access to care.
Cancer care may be inaccessible for some groups for many reasons. Finances, language, technology and transportation can be barriers to cancer care. Patient navigators work to bridge these gaps in care, making it more accessible. In fact, patient navigation is one of the only research-backed ways to improve equity in cancer care.
For more than 30 years, ACS has been a leader in efforts to improve cancer patient navigation. These new grants aim to improve existing patient navigation services. ACS teams will also collect and analyze data about the recipients’ programs. This will help determine which services or approaches provided the most benefits. These insights may help equalize care for all cancer patients.
What Is Patient Navigation?
Patients from many backgrounds often face accessibility challenges when seeking healthcare. This can lead to inequalities in health outcomes like cancer or mesothelioma survival. Patient navigation can help connect people with resources that combat these inequalities. Research shows these services are an important part of equalizing healthcare in America.
– Margarette Osias, a Patient Navigator
Patient navigators guide patients through healthcare systems and processes. They are similar to a tour guide or translator who helps people travel through a foreign city. Patient navigators help patients understand difficult words or new processes.
Navigators may also help patients with basic needs like transportation and childcare. Overall, patient navigators help address unique issues for individual patients. When a patient navigation program provides this aid to many patients, cancer outcomes can improve.
How Does Patient Navigation Improve Equity in Cancer Care?
For decades, researchers have studied inequalities in cancer care. Their efforts found associations between various individual factors and a late-stage cancer diagnosis. These factors include education, ethnicity, income and race. Some research also indicates a link between not having insurance and late-stage diagnosis.
Research shows cancer care inequalities exist for mesothelioma patients. One study found Black patients were less likely to receive mesothelioma surgery. Despite this, Black patients tended to have better long-term survival than white patients.
Organizations like ACS are working to address these disparities through patient navigation. Common cancer treatment challenges and patient navigation solutions include:
- Language barriers: Some patients do not speak or understand the language of their healthcare system. This can lead to miscommunication and frustration. Many patient navigators serve as translators.
- Lack of transportation: Some patients lack personal transportation and may have trouble with public options. This can lead to appointment delays. Patient navigators may coordinate transportation for appointments.
- Personal finances: Some patients live within tight budgets. This can limit their ability to cover out-of-pocket treatment costs. Patient navigators can help patients find and apply for financial support.
- Technology hurdles: Some patients do not have a home computer or regular internet access. This can make finding care difficult. Some patient navigators reach out to patients at places like the grocery store. They provide paper resources like pamphlets with contact information. This helps patients who lack technology resources use patient navigation.
Patient navigation services offer support for these and other treatment accessibility challenges. Research shows these efforts do help eliminate disparities in care.
Which Hospitals Are Receiving Patient Navigation Grants?
This round, 14 hospitals received grants for patient navigation in their cancer programs. These grants aim to strengthen these hospitals’ existing oncology patient navigation services. Other cancer centers and hospitals may receive grants as funding becomes available.
The hospitals receiving part of the 2022 grants are:
- Boston Medical Center (Boston, Massachusetts)
- City of Hope (Los Angeles, California)
- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (Seattle, Washington)
- Harris Health System (Houston, Texas)
- HIMA San Pablo Oncologico-Caguas (Caguas, Puerto Rico)
- Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
- Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (Bronx, New York)
- Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, Illinois)
- The University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
- The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
- University Of Alabama Birmingham (Birmingham, Alabama)
- University of Colorado Denver (Aurora, Colorado)
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
- VCU Massey Cancer Center (Richmond, Virginia)
The ACS grants give these cancer programs more resources for improving patient navigation. Alongside this funding, ACS will help the programs identify best practices to improve patient outcomes. Together, these efforts can help move toward ACS’ goal of ensuring all patients have “a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat and survive cancer.”