Nurses’ navigation gets two thumbs up from cancer patient

It was the kind of picture Sue Stein would love to see from all of her cancer patients.

In the photo was Art Lochead, an 85-year-old grandpa from Forest, Ont., who recently underwent numerous rounds of chemo and radiation for lung cancer, and there he was, sporting a smile and gleefully giving two thumbs up as he stepped off a treadmill.

“It was like he was saying ‘I made it’,” says Stein, a nurse at London Health Sciences Centre. “Those are the kinds of rewards of doing what I do.”

What Stein does for people like Art Lochead is a newer role in nursing aptly titled Patient Navigator.

As the title implies, a Patient Navigator guides and supports patients throughout their diagnostic journey to make care more patient-centred. That means answering patient questions and providing them with helpful education and resources, coordinating their tests and appointments in order to shorten the wait time, giving them emotional support and identifying and managing their symptoms. Essentially, Patient Navigators are invaluable resources to patients during a tremendously stressful time.

“Sue has helped me in just about every way,” says Lochead, noting he has been in constant contact with Stein throughout his cancer experience. “She looked after everything, lined up all the tests – she makes things happen and she doesn’t make you wait.”

Getting cancer patients the care they need, in the quickest time possible, is fundamental to the Patient Navigation position and a goal Stein is motivated to achieve both personally and professionally.

“A very close family member of mine was diagnosed with cancer five years ago and my experience with him was not very good, so I wanted to make things better for patients like him,” she relates. “In this role, I am doing something that helps to prepare patients with the information and support they need. I bond with them and listen to them and that’s what they really need.”

The Stein and Lochead story is a testament to the Patient Navigation Program, which recently wrapped up a two year pilot project.

Launched by Cancer Care Ontario (CCO), the project embraced the notion that patients going through a diagnosis would find the burden far less challenging if they had a skilled and compassionate guide there to support them every step of the way, and if the care and services they received was centralized.

That’s why CCO established the Patient Navigation Pilot Project through Diagnostic Assessment Programs (DAPs), which feature healthcare teams across Ontario who provide patients with streamlined diagnostic services.  In a nutshell, DAPs offer an innovative ‘one-stop’ diagnosis approach that aims to improve the coordination of care, decrease wait times, enhance the patient experience and ultimately, help minimize the progression of the disease.

Working through the DAPs, the Patient Navigator pilot project began focusing on lung and colorectal cancer patients. The navigators were based at hospitals in all 14 Regional Cancer Programs across Ontario, including in Barrie, Oshawa, Thunder Bay, Kitchener, Toronto, Hamilton/Niagara, Kingston, London, Ottawa, Windsor, Newmarket, Sudbury and Mississauga.
•    After 18 months, pilot sites had  50 per cent reduction in their average time to diagnosis
•    More than 30 per cent of lung and colorectal patients reported improvements in anxiety, pain, well-being and tiredness under the care of a nurse navigator
•    Overall, 91 per cent of patients were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.
•    Nurse navigators found their work to be highly satisfying and rewarding

“The results demonstrate that DAPs and Patient Navigation are an excellent approach to providing care and support for patients,” explains Esther Green, Program Head – Nursing & Psycho-Social Oncology at Cancer Care Ontario. “Patient Navigators are not only highly valued by patients, but also by their clinical colleagues. This value translates into a rewarding role for nurses, an effective use of nursing resources and can be a strong catalyst for achieving much-needed improvements in the diagnostic phase of cancer care.”

The Ministry of Health Nursing Secretariat has recognized this value and has introduced ongoing support for patient Navigators across Ontario. For more information, please visit