By Carol Cannon, RN, BSN, OCN®
There are so many aspects to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I learned about the “Patient Protection” part of its very name. I also recently learned that patient navigation is directly referenced in Section 3510, which amends part of the Public Health Service Act to award grants to the Patient Navigator Program. These programs must employ navigators that have minimum core proficiencies as defined by the institution. Additionally, patient navigators are designated in the act to help the public understand their choices related to the healthcare marketplace products and assist them in making the selection that best fits their needs. Some states use the term “in-person assisters,” as patient navigators do much more than just help people understand their insurance coverage.
Patient navigation and care coordination are woven throughout the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Aims of navigation and care coordination—eliminating disparities of medically underserved populations, promoting a patient-centered model of healthcare delivery, eliminating barriers to appropriate, time-sensitive care, and easing transitions of care throughout the fragmented, complex system—are well aligned with the premise of the act.
Navigation is particularly important in the chronic, complex care of patients and families dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. Racial and ethnic minorities and those with low socioeconomic status are more likely to die from cancer than the general population. Patient navigation allows nurses, other professionals, and trained lay people to help patients overcome barriers to care in a culturally sensitive and coordinated approach.
Many of us may not have the title of “oncology nurse navigator,” yet we coordinate care of our patients in our daily professional lives. Others may be formal navigators, in multiple capacities, guiding patients and families through the difficult cancer care trajectory. Clearly, as it is written into our national health law, this role is necessary as people of multiple backgrounds are accessing our healthcare system.
At the ONS 40th Annual Congress, two speakers with very different experiences in patient navigation will talk about the dynamic environment of oncology care coordination in a session called “Care Coordination Throughout the Cancer Trajectory: Improving Communication, Developing Metrics, and Measuring Impact.”
How many of you were aware that this critical role was written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?