The Expanding Roles for Patient Navigators

Image courtesy of Dreamstime

Image courtesy of Dreamstime

Patient Navigators are becoming more commonplace in hospitals these days. Previously only used in cancer settings or with low-income patients with barriers to care, navigators skills are now being employed in many areas of healthcare, so the job outlook for patient navigation is looking good. Starting October 1st, a new breed of patient navigators will even be helping out with the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare insurance marketplace and bring another new definition to the role.

Harold P. Freeman, MD originally founded the patient navigator role in 1990, and his studies found that the use of navigation helped five-year survival rates in breast cancer increase from 39 to 70 percent. Some hospitals have spread their oncology nurse navigator programs to other clinical areas like open heart patients, while others try to focus on Medicaid patients with chronic diseases.

A report by the Center for Health Affairs, The Emerging Field of Patient Navigation: A Golden Opportunity to Improve Healthcare, found “growing evidence that navigation can increase patient satisfaction, reduce no-show rates, increase revenue and provide economic development opportunities.” Accenture calls patient navigation “The Most Important Healthcare Job You’ve Never Heard Of” and claims that programs can recoup their costs within two months. Additionally, one hospital’s results: “overall appointment no-show and cancellation rates dropped from just over 11 percent to 8.36 percent as a result of this intervention.”

A recent survey we did with more than 50 nurses found that 30% of their organizations planned to implement a nurse navigator program in the next 12 months. Answer the poll on our homepage.

We’re hosting a free webinar next week: “Patient Navigation: A Program to Enhance the Patient Experience and the Bottom Line” with Carol Santalucia, MBA. Carol is a seasoned healthcare leader with a passion and commitment to enhancing the patient experience. She and her team at CHAMPS Patient Experience, LLC assist healthcare organizations with creating patient-centered cultures, improving the patient experience as measured by CAHPS, and developing and implementing patient navigation programs. Register today!


This sounds like an organization that I would love the opportunity to work for.


Great article. Having a navigator as patients move through the various points of care – primary care visits, specialists, testing, imagining and therapy makes so much sense. It improves the patient experience by reducing the stress related to getting the care they need.

All very interesting. What is the difference between a Patient Navigator and a nurse Case Manager?

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