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Patient 'Navigators,' Including One In Cambridge

Sheila Profenna's doctor had been telling her to get a colonoscopy for three or four years. But the 54-year-old says she was scared of the procedure and canceled two or three appointments. After she had some worrisome symptoms earlier this year, her doctor at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Boston-area public health-care system, put Ms. Profenna in touch with patient navigator Jennifer Murillo.

Ms. Murillo offered Ms. Profenna useful tips on swallowing the solution patients have to take to cleanse their bowels before the procedure, such as mixing it with a lemon-flavored drink. Ms. Profenna says she was concerned at first that it didn't seem to be working, and called Ms. Murillo that day about a dozen times. On the day of Ms. Profenna's colonoscopy, Ms. Murillo arranged transportation to and from the appointment. "I didn't have to be alone and scared, and Jennifer made me feel as if I had someone to hold my hand through the whole thing," says Ms. Profenna, whose test didn't turn up any problems.

Such navigators are proliferating, the Journal reports:

Hospitals around the country have been adding patient-navigation services in recent years, helped by funding from governments and private groups. The Commission on Cancer, part of the American College of Surgeons, issued new standards this year that will require cancer centers to offer patient-navigation services by 2015 to meet accreditation requirements.

Several studies have shown that navigation services increase participation in cancer screening and adherence to follow-up care.

This program aired on August 16, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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