Harold P. Freeman, MD, Founder and Director of the Harlem-based Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention, has established a Patient Navigation Institute to train individuals to guide cancer patients through the health care system. The institute, a division of the Ralph Lauren Center, is the first of its kind dedicated to eliminating disparities in cancer and health care.
“We have to get people through the system no matter what the barrier is,” Dr. Freeman, who pioneered the concept, said in a telephone interview, noting finances, communication, complexity of the health care system, fear, and distrust as potential barriers.
“The navigator's job is to solve any barrier that the patient may have to getting what the doctor has recommended,” he said.
To address these challenges, navigators speak with patients following their doctor visit to see what barriers exist and then come up with a plan to help overcome any obstacles. Although a number of hospitals have established navigation programs, no standard existed across the various programs, which is why Dr. Freeman created the institute.
Representatives from their respective programs and communities come to the institute for a three-day course involving six modules of training:
- ▪ History of patient navigation and the status of health and cancer disparities.
- ▪ How to develop a patient navigation program.
- ▪ Different types of navigation systems.
- ▪ Cultural sensitivity.
- ▪ Data collection and research.
- ▪ Site visit to the Ralph Lauren center.
To date, the institute has certified 42 patient navigators from 12 organizations.
The strength of patient navigation, is that lay people, because they identify with these patients, can make a huge impact as navigators, explained Dr. Freeman, a member of OT's Editorial Board.
“With the rapid growth of these programs, I think there is a swelling of enthusiasm around the country. It's a very positive sign that first of all we have something that shows that his work saves lives; and secondly, that we are talking about harnessing the energy in the community itself directly to help the people who live there.”