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January 27, 2017 - Navigation program reduced costs, ER visits for elderly cancer patients, study says
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For elderly cancer patients in the Southeast, including those treated at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, lay navigation programs significantly lowered Medicare costs and reduced emergency room visits, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions over a four-year period, according to a study published Jan. 26, 2017, in JAMA Oncology.

Lay navigation programs match patients with “navigators” who serve as a single point of contact for physicians, patients and their caregivers.

The study tracked 12,428 elderly cancer patients in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee from 2012 through 2015, and found that patients who participated in a patient navigation program incurred $781.29 lower costs per quarter when compared with patients outside the program. The study focused on the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System Cancer Community Network, which is made up of 10 community cancer centers and two academic cancer centers, including UAB and MCI.

The study also showed that the navigated patients had 6 percent fewer ER visits, 7.9 percent fewer hospitalizations and 10.6 percent fewer ICU admissions per quarter.

“The lay navigation program at MCI connects patients with a health advocate who provides ongoing help and support as they navigate the complexities of cancer care in a caring and compassionate manner,” said Margaret Sullivan, associate director of Cancer Control and Prevention at MCI. “As a result, our patients receive the right care at the right time and avoid unnecessary ER visits and hospitalization. Our patient-centered approach improves patient outcomes and patient satisfaction while delivering value-based cancer care.”

The JAMA article concluded that “lay navigation programs should expand as health systems transition to value-based health care.”

In 2016, MCI was selected as one of 195 practices across the U.S. to participate in Medicare’s Oncology Care Model program, which aims to provide higher quality and more highly coordinated oncology care. Under this program, MCI’s lay navigation services have been expanded to include all patients. Cathy Tinnea, a nurse navigator who heads the program, estimates that at least 1,500 patients have received navigation services since the program began. As of this month, MCI employs a staff of six lay navigators.

JAMA Oncology is a publication of the American Medical Association.

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