Social workers as patient navigators for breast cancer survivors: what do African-American medically underserved women think of this idea?

Cindy Davis, Kathleen Darby, Wendy Likes, John Bell
Social Work in Health Care 2009, 48 (6): 561-78
Patient navigation (PN) is a new initiative in health care aimed at reducing disparities by assisting patients in overcoming barriers within the health care system. As PN programs grow around the country, it is important to consult the key stakeholders in the development of these programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to discuss the needs of medically underserved cancer patients and allow them the opportunity to provide input on models of care to meet their needs. Four focus groups were conducted in three major cities across Tennessee. Research participants (n = 36) were recruited by the staff in area cancer support programs and treatment programs across the state and through recruitment flyers at various treatment centers and community organizations. Findings revealed four key themes in the development of PN programs: (1) the PN needs to address access to quality care issues; (2) the PN needs to address the emotional and practical concerns of the cancer survivor, (3) the PN needs to address family concerns; (4) the PN needs to be involved across the continuum of care from time of diagnosis into long-term survivorship. Oncology social workers have a unique opportunity to meet the needs of medically underserved cancer patients through the PN movement. Our profession is a key stakeholder in this movement. We need to advocate for trained oncology social workers to actively pursue the role of patient navigators to ensure that the needs of medically underserved cancer survivors and their families are met.

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