Purpose: Patients with cancer face daunting coordination problems at a vulnerable time. Lay navigation programs offer 1 approach to address these problems, but how to best implement these programs presents challenges. We sought to describe those implementation challenges at 1 academic cancer center to inform future efforts.
Methods: We performed a mixed methods study using standard implementation outcomes 1 year after program initiation. Quantitative data from the electronic medical record and qualitative data from in-depth interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic observations were included in analyses. The study took place at a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center across 12 tumor-specific clinics.
Results: Supportive care concerns, scheduling, and clinical-related issues were the most frequent issues navigators encountered. Effective navigation required continuous, time-consuming, invisible work, including building and maintaining a broad knowledge base of resources and health system processes, as well as cultivating relationships with diverse and changing clinical teams. The acceptability and appropriateness of lay navigator activities were mixed among clinic and social work staff, related to negotiating lines between clinical and nonclinical care.
Conclusion: After 1 year of implementation, lay navigators still found it difficult to interpret and prioritize complex patient needs in a way that all clinical staff found appropriate. Negotiating these issues has made it difficult to develop the strong relationships with clinical teams that are needed for an integrated approach to patient care. To successfully coordinate patient care, it seems that lay navigation programs should be integrated with clinical teams to provide more seamless patient care.