A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute highlights the important roles nurse navigators play in patient interaction, specifically in regard to colonoscopy screenings. Many patients are often wary to undergo screening, or are simply under-informed as to its importance. The study was conducted to help improve navigators’ abilities to reduce these and other barriers to colonoscopy access in a medically disadvantaged population. The researchers conducting the survey spoke to the study’s importance across the health industry, not solely oncology, writing:
“Given the recent increase of PN [patient navigator] programs in healthcare settings, it is necessary to better understand the activities navigators conduct, including how much time they spend engaging in these activities.”
The study was conducted at Boston Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Investigators analyzed service delivery and survey data collected from 420 patients between 50 and 75 years old (when early screening becomes most critical) who were provided navigation services for colonoscopy screenings between October 2012 and December 2014. Some of the variables that the study focused on include:
- Common barriers to colonoscopy screening
- What activities navigators undertook to reduce barriers
- The time navigators spent on each activity and per patient
- Patient satisfaction with navigation services
Researchers initiated the study by performing an assessment of barriers to colonoscopy screening. They then used this data to develop plans to work with patients throughout the screening process, including prep and follow-up. The results of the study found that navigators spent, on average, 44 minutes per patient. The study also showed that navigators spent the most time evaluating individual patient barriers and needs, aiding in appointment scheduling/reminders and transportation, educating patients about colorectal cancer as well as the importance of screening, and colonoscopy preparation and procedures.
Further, the data collected highlight the crucial role nurse navigators play in helping patients understand their treatment. The study found that 98% of patients reported facing at least one barrier to screening; the most prominent of these concerned communication and lack of information. 59% reported needing information about the actual colonoscopy procedure, with 42% requiring help in scheduling their appointments.Overall, the study confirmed that patients valued the navigators, particularly for providing emotional and peer support, as well as for explaining screening procedures and bowel preparation. As nurse navigators and care coordination are further adopted across the health care industry, it is crucial to understand how best to utilize their skills to drive improved patient outcomes and provider efficiency. In fact, many health care providers are making great strides in implementation. Often, organizations employ navigators from the populations they serve most, alleviating cultural and communication barriers as well as providing access to community resources that can aid treatment. As further research studies like this one are conducted, we will continue to learn more about the role nurse navigators play and how providers can best serve their patients.