Martin Health System’s Breast Health Navigator Program Helps Patients get the Cancer Treatment They Need
Martin Health System’s Breast Health Navigator program helps women diagnosed with breast cancer to navigate the health care system and access the care and services they need, including treatment free of charge for qualifying uninsured and underinsured patients. The program was initiated because of a study conducted by a breast surgeon at Martin Health System, which found there was a signiﬁcant delay in treatment from time of diagnosis to treatment for uninsured and underinsured patients with breast cancer. When women are uninsured, they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage of the disease because they don’t have mammograms regularly, and if they have symptoms, they are more likely to ignore them until the symptoms become more severe or pronounced.
In April 2005, the free Breast Health Navigator program was launched with the help of a grant from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as generous contributions from the Harbour Ridge Ladies Golf Association in Palm City. The program includes two primary components: navigation of services, and free diagnostics and treatment for uninsured and underinsured patients.
For women diagnosed with breast cancer, learning how to ﬁght the disease can be an emotional, frightening experience with more questions than answers. Studies show that in the ﬁrst four to six weeks after the time of diagnosis, patients experience fear and anxiety. Reality of cancer hits hard and patients are uncertain about what to do next. Martin Health’s Breast Health Navigator program is designed to assist women who have been recently diagnosed, are already living with breast cancer or have had a recurrence of the disease. The program helps women cope with the anxiety of being diagnosed with cancer, provides information and resources, decreases barriers to services and seeks to expedite access to care.
The Breast Health Navigator team answers questions, provides information on insurance or potential resources, and attempts to get patients access to services as quickly as possible. The team helps women know what their options are, navigating patients through their courses of therapies, tests and treatments and oﬀering a valuable support system throughout the treatment process. The program is staﬀed by a registered nurse certiﬁed in oncology and a clinical oncology social worker, who help provide the following free services:
- Educate patients about their diagnosis and treatment;
- Find resources and support;
“We are providing care to women that wouldn’t have treatment otherwise. This program has been literally a life saver for some woman”
Clinical Oncology Social Worker
“Together we take care of the whole patient because breast cancer is not just about the cancer treatment. These women go through emotional turmoil, fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the future and what comes next. We do whatever we can to help them through this journey to survivorship. Seeing the sadness in a patient’s eyes turn to hope is a gift we are thankful to be able to receive.”
– Carolyn Shore, RN, OCN, CBCN
- Guide patients through the health care system;
- Help patients feel more in control of their care;
- Help patients speak with doctors and staﬀ; and
- Streamline and scheduling appointments
Examples range from coordinating support groups, helping patients purchase wigs, providing educational resources for patients and their families, helping answer questions for patients and their family members throughout the care process, and referring patients to additional social resources.
In addition to supporting breast cancer patients and their families understand and cope with the complex emotions that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis, the Breast Health Navigator program provides access to free and discounted care for uninsured and underinsured women. In 2012, the Breast Health Navigator program helped a total of 185 women and their families. In addition, 13 women received cancer treatment free of charge. Grants also support free and discounted mammograms, and biopsies.
As a result of the program, patients no longer need to go through the cancer treatment process alone and uninsured patients now have access to the same treatment protocols and timeframes as those with insurance. One woman diagnosed with breast cancer had three young children at home and felt hopeless. The Breast Health Navigator program took care of her, and provided free treatment. Other women have relied on the program to help them navigate their care when they are feeling overwhelmed with managing work, their family and their treatment. Now in its eighth year, the program’s impact is growing. Community partnerships, such as a local golf tournament dedicated to the program, are increasingly supportive of the program and raise awareness about its importance.