A Doctor's View of Patient Navigation Services

In her work at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, Dr. Elizabeth Marcus sees many patients who begin their cancer journey with bewilderment, few resources and no idea of where to turn for help.

Dr. Marcus counts the American Cancer Society's Patient Navigation ServicesTM among her greatest resources in caring for her patients. Here, she gives her views on the value of this free program, which will serve an estimated 21,500 patients in Illinois this year.

You are a breast cancer specialist caring for women in one of the nation's busiest public hospitals. What kinds of challenges do your patients face?
At Stroger Hospital we care for the uninsured and underinsured. Approximately 45% have some form of insurance such as Medicaid or Medicare, but more than half have no coverage at all. Many have a very modest education. Some are from other parts of the world, and that affects how they think about wellness, illness and medical care. Any of these issues can make it hard for them to face cancer with confidence.

What is your approach in treating them?
I've found that unless I help my patients deal with all their problems – the practical as well as the medical – I can't help them at all.  I depend on the patient navigators at the American Cancer Society to deliver the additional support my patients need.

We have 2 full-time staff people at Stroger who work with you.  How do they help you provide better care?
The Society's patient navigators play so many roles. They look at each patient's life and say, "What will make it hard for her to deal with her cancer?"  Then they work to move aside those barriers – whether it's finding her free rides to treatment, helping her apply for disability or other benefits or pairing her with another woman who has survived breast cancer for extra support.

Does having the right support help you achieve better outcomes?
It does. When a woman has enough information and support, she feels empowered to work more effectively with her doctors.  With breast cancer today, we have multiple ways of successfully treating the disease, but that means there's more information for the patient to take in. Society navigators help my patients by explaining things in ways they can readily understand, and helping them figure out what questions to ask their doctors. They become active partners in their own health care.

How do you view this program's value beyond Stroger Hospital?
Cancer changes your life in an instant. No one is immune to the fear and confusion it brings, and every patient – no matter who they are – will need special help. As doctors, we can't provide 100% of that support on our own. That's why Patient Navigation Services is so important.  I can't say enough about the good I believe it does for all cancer patients in our state.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a cancer diagnosis, call 1.800.ACS.2345, anytime, day or night. A member of our Illinois team will help you find the resources you need, right in your community.