Patient Navigation

You Can Help Patients Overcome Barriers to Cancer Screening

Photo of a patient navigator helping a patient schedule an appointment.

Patient navigators guide patients through the health care system and help them overcome barriers that prevent them from getting the care they need.

Patient navigators are staff members who work with patients to overcome barriers and understand the medical system. Their support can help patients get the cancer screenings and follow-up care they need.

Patient barriers may include:

  • Lack of transportation.
  • Lack of care for children or elderly relatives.
  • Not understanding why they should get screened.
  • Speaking a different language.
  • Mistrust of the health care system.
  • Fear of finding out they have cancer or fear of the screening procedures.

How to Create a Patient Navigation System

Questions to ask:

  • Who will supervise your patient navigators?
  • How will navigation be delivered—for example, in person, electronically, or by telephone?
  • Where will patient navigators be located—for example, within your health system or clinic or at a partner’s location?

How to Support a Patient Navigation System

Relationships are key to building an effective patient navigation system. Look for people to serve as navigators who have great communication and interpersonal skills.

Identify the resources you’ll need to:

  • Hire, train, and supervise the patient navigators.
  • Provide technology to the navigators.
  • Make sure patients receive high-quality support.

Look for ways to reduce costs:

  • Look for grants from the federal government, private foundations, state health departments, philanthropic organizations, academic institutions, and medical societies.
  • Share costs with other programs in your organization or other clinics that use navigators.

Remember that the money saved by reducing the number of patients who cancel appointments at the last minute or don’t show up may offset the cost of the new system. For more ideas, see the Paying for Cancer Screening Navigation Tool Kit.external icon

Success Stories
Maria De Lourdes Navarro

Community health workers connected with women on a personal level and learned that problems such as language, transportation, and financial stress stopped women from getting screened. The community health workers helped address those problems so that they could get the services they needed.

January is cervical cancer awareness month. Honor every woman. Please join the Honor Every Woman team in wearing teal every Tuesday in January 2021!

Several organizations worked together to help women in the Oglala Sioux Tribe get screened for breast and cervical cancer. A patient navigator called or sent letters to women who were due for a cancer screening test and helped educate women about cancer screening and prevention.

Photo of Ms. Maria Barrera making a presentation

Pennsylvania’s HealthyWoman Program trained and paid for two patient navigators. The navigators worked with two local health organizations to reach out to Latino and African populations.

Page last reviewed: November 10, 2021