The Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+) Calls Upon Healthcare Teams to Integrate Sustainable Patient Navigation Services Into Standard Oncology Care

Press Releases published on August 11, 2023 in News & Updates

Research Proves That Oncology Navigation Plays Critical Role in Dismantling Health Inequities

CRANBURY, NJ (Aug. 11, 2023)—Patient navigation is one of the only evidence-based interventions that effectively addresses disparities in oncology care. It’s a fact that was first demonstrated by the Patient Navigation Research Program in 2008, highlighted by an AONN+ project on Reducing Racial Disparities in Cancer Care Using the ACCURE Trial as a Model Learning Guide, and most recently by the American Cancer Society’s National Navigation Roundtable in 2022.

Now, AONN+’s Leadership Council has issued a call-to-action urging healthcare teams to integrate sustainable patient navigation services into standard oncology care, expand their reach to underserved populations, and strengthen collaboration among healthcare providers, community organizations, and policymakers.

“As seasoned professionals, the AONN+ Leadership Council understands the powerful and effective role of patient navigation in breaking down barriers that prevent the delivery of fair and equitable care,” explains AONN+ Program Director Sharon Gentry, MSN, RN, HON-ONN-CG, AOCN, CBCN. “When we stepped back and took account of the abundant research supporting this belief, we realized the tremendous opportunity and timing before us to bring this fact to light: patient navigation is the key to overcoming health inequities.”

The end result of this effort is AONN+ Leadership Council’s Health Inequities Statement, which was published in August 2023. Within this document, the group outlines the extent to which disparities in cancer care affect outcomes across both race and community settings (rural versus urban) as well as the root cause of the disparities, including implicit bias, poor communication, language barriers, lack of representation in the oncology community, and mistrust of the healthcare system and clinical trials.

It also presents documented evidence that clearly illustrates the value of patient navigation in dismantling health inequities within the healthcare system.

“In both the clinical and community setting, patient navigators provide individualized assistance to patients and their family members, helping to identify and overcome the specific obstacles that stand between them and timely access to quality health and psychosocial care,” says AONN+ Executive Director, Strategy & Operations Emily Gentry, RN, BSN, HON-ONN-CG, OCN. “When it comes down to it, navigation is a common-sense approach to care that yields tremendous value for the patient, their family and the healthcare system at large.”

Building a Case on a National Stage
The value of navigation in overcoming healthcare disparities isn’t an industry secret. In fact, since 2015—when AONN+ joined the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer as its 53rd member—AONN+ members have consistently inserted navigation into the national conversation.

And people have noticed.

In 2017, AONN+’s Danelle Johnston, MSN, RN, HON-ONN-CG, OCN, was named to the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative’s 25-member Advisory Committee and took part in the initiative’s “Conversations with Dr. Biden.” This provided AONN+ with the opportunity to advance the role of patient navigation in the cancer care continuum.

AONN+’s relationship with the initiative ultimately led to several members taking part in a patient navigation working group. In 2020, this group transitioned into the Professional Oncology Navigation Task Force (PONT), and they recently published the Oncology Navigation Standards of Professional Practice.

With President Biden’s reignition of the Cancer Moonshot in 2022, AONN+ is once again demonstrating navigation’s role in eliminating health disparities and improving health equity across the cancer continuum.

Most recently, AONN+’s Director of Patient Navigation Development Monica Dean, HON-OPN-CG, was invited to take part in the White House Cancer Moonshot Colorectal Cancer Forum. This event featured discussions among experts on progress and opportunities in colorectal cancer awareness, screening, access, and treatments.

Read more about AONN+’s participation in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative in the July 2023 issue of JONS.

The Reimbursement Conundrum
While it’s one thing to demonstrate the value of patient navigation on a local and national scale, receiving reimbursement for these services is quite another.

Within its Health Inequities Statement, AONN+ Leadership includes a second call-to-action asserting that, “future reimbursement models, including value-based and alternative payment models, for oncology should prioritize access to navigation services specifically for marginalized communities, to ensure that these oncologic outcome disparities do not continue to persist or worsen.”

Recent news from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) signals reason for hope in this area. In its proposed Calendar Year 2024 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, CMS includes coding changes to allow for reimbursement for patient navigation services, caregiver training services, community health integration services, and expanded access to telehealth services.

AONN+ is proud of every navigator who has provided support to the evidence-based metrics on patient outcomes, return on investment, and patient satisfaction that shows the value of oncology patient navigation. This timely, equitable, inclusive, and responsive care is the foundation for addressing disparities in oncology care! The integration of sustainable patient navigation services into standard oncology care, which plays a critical role in dismantling health inequities, supports many of the CMS proposals for Calendar Year 2024 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

About the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators, Inc. (AONN+)
The Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators, Inc. (AONN+), is the largest national specialty organization dedicated to improving patient care and quality of life by defining, enhancing, and promoting the role of oncology nurse and patient navigators. The organization, which has more than 9,000 members, was founded in 2009 to provide a network for all professionals involved and interested in patient navigation and survivorship care services in order to better manage the complexities of the cancer treatment process.

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