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Patient Navigators: An Overview


Definition of Patient Navigator

A patient navigator helps people navigate through our complex medical system. 

The National Cancer Institute provides the following definition of a Patient Navigator:

Patient Navigators are trained, culturally sensitive health care workers who provide support and guidance throughout the cancer care continuum. They help people "navigate" through the maze of doctors' offices, clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, insurance and payment systems, patient-support organizations, and other components of the health care system. Services are designed to support timely delivery of quality standard cancer care and ensure that patients, survivors, and families are satisfied with their encounters with the cancer care system. Patient Navigator activities designed to achieve these outcomes include:

  • Coordinating appointments with providers to ensure timely delivery of diagnostic and treatment services.
  • Maintaining communication with patients, survivors, families, and the health care providers to monitor patient satisfaction with the cancer care experience.
  • Ensuring that appropriate medical records are available at scheduled appointments.
  • Arranging language translation or interpretation services.
  • Facilitating financial support and helping with paperwork.
  • Arranging transportation and/or child/elder care.
  • Facilitating linkages to follow-up services.

Other Navigator activities include:

  • Community outreach 
  • Providing access to clinical trials
  • Building partnerships with local agencies and groups. For example, so navigators can make referrals to other services and/or cancer survivor support groups.

Licensing of patient navigators

There are currently no licensing requirements for navigators. Anyone can call him or herself a patient navigator.

How to locate an experienced patient navigator 

  • Look for a navigator who works with an accredited cancer treatment center or other top quality health facility
  • Contact your local disease specific nonprofit organization
  • Ask other people in a situation similar to yours
  • Ask family and friends
  • Your health care provider's staff.
  • For a navigator who specializes in cancer, contact the Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators (AONN) offsite link

Before deciding to work with a particular patient navigator:

  • Ask about his or her background, including education, experience in the field and membership in a professional organization such as the Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators (AONN) offsite link
  • Ask for references, including contact information. Call at least two of them.

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