When Bill Rivera was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, he was stunned.
"It was tough. Very, very tough," said Rivera.
Even tougher was getting to all the appointments.
"See the cardiologists, see the gastroenterologist, see the oncologist," Rivera said.
Luckily, Rivera had help from a patient navigator.
"Patient navigators are basically like shepherds, to sort of guide patients through cancer treatment," said Dr. David Kahn, Cancer Care Consultants, Los Angeles.
They'll find doctors, set up appointments, track down clinical trials, even help patients decide what care is best for them. They can figure out ways to cut through the red tape and they may even help negotiate with insurers if you've been denied coverage.
There are several for-profit companies that offer "healthcare advocacy," but the service doesn't come cheap. Costs range from $200 an hour to thousands of dollars for a one-time membership fee.
But, there are also programs providing free navigators for low-income patients, who often don't have resources to get the treatment they need.
"Transportation is the very biggest barrier to treatment," said Dr. Kahn.
In a recent study, navigators reduced the time it took to overcome barriers like that from 42 days to one; and two-thirds of patients said navigators greatly improved their care.
"It's purely free of charge. It's optional if patients want to receive navigation Services," said Dr. Kahn.
Cancer survivor Lillian Morton-Benbow was Rivera's navigator. For 40 patients, she's done everything from lend an ear to transport them to appointments.
"If they need to have a fight for Social Security, I'll go and fight with them," said Morton-Benbow.
She fought to get Rivera disability insurance, found him financial aid and became a friend.
"I'm enjoying now. If it wasn't for the program, who knows what's going to happen?" Rivera said.
Rivera's now in remission, and instead of doctor's appointments, he's got grandson appointments.
The National Cancer Institute provides funding for patient navigator programs across the country in underserved populations.
Also, the American Cancer Society has many programs currently available in our area hospitals.
American Cancer Society
(they prefer people call the 800 number and not go directly to the web)
Anyone who calls this number will be connected to a live person, with specific information about Patient navigation Services in Illinois.
National Cancer Institute
Where can one obtain additional information about the Patient Navigator Program?
Information is available at the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities Web site, at http://crchd.cancer.gov/, or by calling 301-496-8589.
Equal Access, the newsletter of the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities:
For more information about cancer, visit the NCI Web site at http://www.cancer.gov or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Services that cost money:
Health Advocate Inc.
Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates