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  • Nov 17, 2019

The power of patient navigation

Patient Navigators from CHA's Women's Health Network help patients navigate the health care system and gain access to vital community resources.

By Katie Teague, MSW, Program Manager, Health Education and Access Programs.

After answering 12 phone calls, scheduling seven appointments and missing five, a patient, who we will call “Jane,” arrived at Cambridge Hospital Primary Care for her first Pap Smear and doctor's appointment in five years. What happened between the first and last phone call that made it possible for Jane to arrive at her appointment?

Jane was connected to a skilled Patient Navigator from CHA's Women's Health Network (WHN) program to address the daily challenges that prevented her from receiving care. At CHA, we understand that the social determinants of health, or the conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work, play and age impact health access and outcomes. Most of what keeps people healthy are circumstances outside of medical care – insufficient or poor quality food, housing, utilities, employment and education.

Initially, patient communications were focused on scheduling appointments to apply and enroll in MassHealth. Later, calls involved referrals to services, including the Women Infants & Children (WIC) nutrition program, utility assistance, subsidized childcare and mental health supports. Every interaction involved coordinating transportation for Jane and eventually her close friend, who would accompany Jane to her final appointment.

This kind of patient experience is common for some patients at CHA and is reflective of a larger health access issue impacting individuals across Massachusetts. In 2018, nearly 96% of residents were insured, but almost half (49.1%) of adults reported difficulty accessing health care.

Jane's story highlights some of the daily challenges people encounter that keep them from obtaining adequate health care, treatment and services. Her experience also highlights the ways in which CHA's WHN Patient Navigators are addressing barriers to access for breast and cervical cancer screenings through navigation and clinical care.

Are you, a friend, or loved one, experiencing barriers to receiving health care? Below are a few things you can do today.

  • Reach out to CHA Financial Assistance with insurance questions to better understand what your insurance covers and does not, and make a plan for your entire family. This can save you both time and money in the long run.
  • Establish a relationship with a trusted primary care team to visit for preventative services, not only when you are sick. Your doctor can advise you about screenings you may be eligible for, like breast and cervical cancer screenings. 
    • If needed, request an interpreter prior to your appointment.
  • Talk with your care team about other services you may be eligible for within and outside of CHA.
  • Get involved. If you are interested in hosting an educational workshop on health access and breast and/or cervical cancer for your community, please email

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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