Advocates Improves Screening Rates in Low Income Cancer Patients

Patient navigators found to enhance adherence to screening guidelines in ethnic minority and less fortunate cancer patients.

Low-income and ethnic minority patients who use patient navigators are more likely to adhere to cancer screening guidelines, improving screening rates among populations who are unlikely to receive recommended screenings.

In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers used a computer system to identify patients at risk of non-adherence to recommended cancer screenings, and who were overdue for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening.

There were 1626 at-risk patients identified across 18 Massachusetts General Hospital primary care practices, including 4 community health centers. Of the identified patients, 792 were randomly assigned a patient navigator who provides intense outreach and guidance to assist in getting a cancer screening.

The patient navigators educated and encouraged patients, arranged for transportation, accompanied them to visits, spoke the same language, and helped them overcome any barriers they may face in obtaining a screening.

“Patient navigators provide a critical bridge between patients and caregivers that enhances and improves care,” said lead study author Sanja Percac-Lima, MD, PhD. “By employing these types of tactics, we can address critical health disparities for at-risk communities.”

The results of the study showed that 32% of patients paired with a patient navigator completed at least 1 overdue cancer screening, compared with 18% of patients in the control group.

“These findings demonstrate how effective patient navigators can be for patients who, for a variety of reasons, encounter obstacles to receiving cancer screening,” Percac-Lima said. “Health disparities pose a major challenge to low-income and ethnic minority patients, and our study suggests a proactive approach may help increase their chances of receiving the care they need.”