“Patient Navigators” Help Increase Colon Cancer Screening Rates

In New York City, an innovative community-based cancer prevention initiative that utilizes bilingual “patient navigators” to guide participants through the process of receiving a colonoscopy is achieving remarkable results in increasing rates of colon cancer screening and early detection among the city’s minority populations.

According to a report in the June 6 edition of the New York Times, the New York Citywide Colon Cancer Control Coalition—a group of physicians, city health officials, union workers, hospital administrators and insurance providers—launched the program five years ago to improve the low rate of colonoscopy screening among New York residents ages 50 and older. The patient navigators’ role is to call people to encourage them to make a colonoscopy appointment, and then guide them through the process to make sure they actually receive the screening. To increase compliance and reduce no-shows, the navigators provide a variety of support services, from explaining how to prepare for a colonoscopy to arranging transportation.

Between 2003 and 2007, the navigator program has helped increase colonoscopy rates by about 50%, while dramatically reducing the no-show rate from 67% down to 10%, the coalition reports. Specifically, among New Yorkers age 50 or older:

    • 64% of blacks received a colonoscopy in 2007, compared with only 35% in 2003.
    • 63% of Hispanics received a colonoscopy, up from 38% in 2003.
    • 53.6% of Asians received a colonoscopy, compared to 25% in 2003.
    • 62% of whites received the procedure, versus 48% in 2003.

Because of this success, the program is now operating in 16 hospitals in the city and is starting to expand into other areas, such as diabetes prevention.