Healthcare Navigators Cost-Effective for Breast Cancer Patients, Study Finds

10/14/2010

Pairing breast cancer patients with a health care professional to help them navigate their way through the health care process may save lives and substantial amounts of money in the health care system, a study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) finds.

Shortening the time between an abnormal screening result and diagnosis by six months could increase the life of a patient with breast cancer by a year and save $95,625 per patient, per year, the researchers found.

The work was done as part of the Chicago Cancer Navigation Project, directed by Elizabeth Calhoun, UIC professor of health policy administration, one of nine Patient Navigator Research Programs sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. The project tests whether pairing low-income ethnic minority women with a patient navigator after they have received an abnormal mammogram expedites their diagnosis and start of treatment.

Two of every five low-income women of ethnic minorities who receive an abnormal breast cancer screening experience delays of at least three months for follow-up care and diagnosis, previous research has shown. Although breast cancer incidence is lower for African American and Hispanic women, they are more likely to die from the disease within five years of diagnosis.

Talar Markossian, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Georgia Southern University, conducted the study with Calhoun as part of her doctoral research at the UIC School of Public Health.

“If left undetected and untreated, breast cancer develops into more advanced stages, and hence, becomes more costly to treat, and the chances of surviving the disease decrease," Markossian explained.

She said that health care navigators help patients overwhelmed with a new breast cancer diagnosis to overcome a variety of challenges, from making sure that a patient’s medical and test information is on hand for doctor’s visits to helping the patient find financial support and coordinate follow-up visits with physicians.

“Providing patients with access to a health care professional who can help them navigate their way through the maze of doctors, tests, treatments and financial paperwork can save the life of a breast cancer patient at a comparatively reasonable price,” she said.

The study’s findings are published online by the journal Health Policy.

Learn more about associated research by Calhoun, Patient Navigation in Medically Underserved Areas, part of the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities, and a related study of the comparative effectiveness of this approach.

This news release was based on a release published by Georgia Southern University on October 8, 2010.