The Oncology Navigation Program and Why it Works

MUSC Health
November 16, 2020
Patient meeting with a nurse navigator

A cancer diagnosis is frightening and bewildering, leaving patients wondering where to turn and what happens next.

A diagnosis requiring a multidisciplinary health care team can add another layer of uncertainty.

At MUSC Health, patients with complex diagnoses and their families don’t have to go it alone, thanks to MUSC Health’s nationally recognized Navigation Program.

“From the moment of referral, a nurse navigator is with the patient every step of the way – even before the patient arrives at MUSC for treatment and care,” says Jennifer Wood, nurse navigator with the MUSC Health Hollings Cancer Center.

As the state’s only academic medical center and home to the National Cancer Institute-designated Hollings Cancer Center, MUSC Health treats some of the region’s most challenging and complex cases. The multidisciplinary oncology care team, includes medical and radiation oncology, surgery, radiology, pathology, nurses, and social workers.

A nurse navigator acts as a liaison with that care team, helping ensure that the patient gets access to the care, the treatment as well as the resources they need and are kept informed about what to expect.

“Understandably, patients have questions about what to expect and what to do, and a nurse navigator is an integral member of the care team who can listen to the patient and answer questions, be sure the patient is involved in treatment decisions and goals, and talk about their emotional concerns,” she says.

Every patient at MUSC Health’s Hollings Cancer Center is assigned a Patient Care Coordinator to assists with overcome barriers upon their initial entry to the system -- from financial to emotional.

“The more complex cases – those requiring multidisciplinary, complex treatments --are assigned a navigator who advocates for them and helps them move seamlessly through their journey,” Wood says.

MUSC Health's Navigator Program earned national recognition recently when it was one of only two academic medical centers chosen to participate in a nationwide study that evaluated patient navigator programs' effectiveness.

The study, which enrolled eight health systems, was conducted by the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Nurse Navigators, Chartis Oncology Solutions, and the American Cancer Society. It analyzed patient responses regarding 10 components of nurse navigator programs, including barriers to care and access to psychosocial support and palliative care services. Based on patient responses, the study recommended tools and strategies for improving the patient experience.

“Being selected was quite an honor and an opportunity for our Navigator Program,” says Cindy Kramer, program director of Oncology Navigation and the Blood and Marrow Transplant Team program at MUSC Health. “Not only did it allow us to showcase our program to a national audience, but it challenged us to examine our standards and practices and look for ways to make the experience even better for patients as they move through the continuum of care.”

It also validated the importance of navigator programs for patients and their families. The study showed that nurse navigator programs provide better and quicker access to care, have a positive impact on patient outcomes, support coordination of care for patients through the entire cancer care continuum, improve communication among patients, their families and their health care team, identify financial and community resources, ensure access to clinical trials and lead to enhanced patient satisfaction.

Claudia Miller, a nurse navigator for the MUSC Health Lung and Thoracic Program, knows the program's importance for patients. "Our goal at Hollings Cancer Center is to provide patient-centric care.  I like to think of multidisciplinary care as a wheel. The patient is the hub of the wheel, and it is the navigator's goal to ensure the care provided revolves around the patient seamlessly."

Dr. David Mahvi, oncology chief for MUSC Health’s Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence, says the study highlights the Navigator Program as one more reason patients choose MUSC Health for their treatment and care. “Our patients are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents. We understand that we’re not just treating a disease, but we’re caring for a loved one, and, in many cases, a family. Our navigators help patients move through their treatment with dignity, confidence, and assurance that we put their needs above all else.”

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Keywords: Cancer