Cost-Effectiveness of a Patient Navigation Program to Improve Cervical Cancer Screening

This study investigates the cost-effectiveness of a community-based patient navigation program to improve cervical cancer screening.
Published Online: July 25, 2017
Yan Li, PhD; Erin Carlson, DrPH; Roberto Villarreal, MD; Leah Meraz, MA; and José A. Pagán, PhD

Objectives: To assess the cost-effectiveness of a community-based patient navigation program to improve cervical cancer screening among Hispanic women 18 or older in San Antonio, Texas. 

Study Design: We used a microsimulation model of cervical cancer to project the long-term cost-effectiveness of a community-based patient navigation program compared with current practice. 

Methods: We used program data from 2012 to 2015 and published data from the existing literature as model input. Taking a societal perspective, we estimated the lifetime costs, life expectancy, and quality-adjusted life-years and conducted 2-way sensitivity analyses to account for parameter uncertainty. 

Results: The patient navigation program resulted in a per-capita gain of 0.2 years of life expectancy. The program was highly cost-effective relative to no intervention (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $748). The program costs would have to increase up to 10 times from $311 for it not to be cost-effective. 

Conclusions: The 3-year community-based patient navigation program effectively increased cervical cancer screening uptake and adherence and improved the cost-effectiveness of the screening program for Hispanic women 18 years or older in San Antonio, Texas. Future research is needed to translate and disseminate the patient navigation program to other socioeconomic and demographic groups to test its robustness and design.

Am J Manag Care. 2017;23(7):429-434
Takeaway Points

Community-based patient navigation programs may improve cervical cancer screening uptake, especially among Hispanic women. This study provides healthcare managers with knowledge about patient navigation programs that are multilevel and include some elements and principles from behavioral economics to improve cancer screening. 
  • This study adds to the existing literature by assessing the long-term cost-effectiveness of a community-based patient navigation program for Hispanic women. 
  • This study promotes the implementation of patient-centered cancer screening services.
Although advances in screening and vaccination technologies have substantially lowered the risk of cervical cancer among women, it still accounts for more than 4000 deaths per year in the United States.1 There are also persistent disparities in incidence and mortality rates, not only by socioeconomic status and geography, but also by ethnicity and race.2,3 Hispanic women have a higher risk of cervical cancer than other major ethnic/racial groups and are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.4 In urban areas, reducing cervical cancer morbidity and mortality is particularly difficult as the success of cancer prevention programs requires knowledge and self-control that few patients possess.5

Patient navigation refers to “the support and guidance offered to persons with abnormal cancer screening or a new cancer diagnosis in accessing the cancer care system, overcoming barriers, and facilitating timely, quality care provided in a culturally sensitive manner.”6 In public health practice, patient navigation may include a variety of specific services and interventions, such as scheduling appointments with culturally sensitive caregivers, providing transportation or interpretation services, and assisting participants with childcare during scheduled appointments.6 The results of several randomized controlled trials have shown that patient navigation is effective in increasing patient satisfaction, decreasing the anxiety associated with screening processes and procedures, and improving cancer screening uptake and adherence.7,8 However, there is still limited evidence supporting the efficacy of patient navigation in improving patient outcomes over the long term or assessing the cost-effectiveness (CE) of specific patient navigation programs.9

In this study, we explored the implementation and results from a community-based patient navigation program (designed to increase the cervical cancer screening [Pap test] rate) in San Antonio, Texas, for an underserved Hispanic female population 18 years or older. The program was multilevel and included some elements and principles from behavioral economics.10 Because the benefits of cervical cancer screening are hardly observed in the short term, we also used an evidence-based microsimulation model to assess improvements in long-term patient outcomes, and to evaluate the CE of the program versus the status quo. Finally, to ensure the robustness of the CE analysis, we conducted sensitivity analyses to assess several key cost and effectiveness parameters.



Program Description

This study focused on a 3-year patient navigation program for cervical cancer screening implemented by the Bexar County Hospital District (University Health System) in San Antonio, Texas, from 2012 to 2015. The program targeted an urban female Hispanic population 18 years or older enrolled in CareLink, a financial assistance program for the uninsured population in San Antonio. This population has a particularly high risk for cervical cancer: in 2009, approximately 67% of women aged at least 18 years who were enrolled in CareLink had not had the recommended Pap test within the past 3 years.11 In addition, these women faced a range of cultural and socioeconomic barriers to undergoing cancer screening (eg, lack of financial resources to access screening services, fear of embarrassment, and concerns about provider sensitivity to patient comfort).

The patient navigation program is recognized as a major component of a community-based, culturally competent, secondary cancer prevention program described in a previous study.11 It was designed to provide personalized social communication by encouraging participants to call “Claudia,” a bilingual female contact person who would act as a program navigator in disseminating health information. This is consistent with the behavioral economics principle of relying on social and cultural norms because using the same Hispanic name as a contact person helps participants recall similar events in memory in a culturally competent way.10 The program also included participant reminders to call Claudia within newsletters, public service announcements, and automated messages. Afterward, these patient navigators provided assessments of the cervical cancer and screening knowledge of patients they had spoken with, as well as personalized education about the potential benefits of screening.

In addition to the services provided by patient navigators, the program also implemented multilevel strategies designed to increase the uptake and adherence of cancer screening within the target population. For example, the program relied on a mass media health promotion campaign, which allowed women to align their subjective assessment of cervical cancer risk with their actual risk by receiving health education and information messages provided by patient navigators who are similar to, or representative of, the target population. The program also provided patients with accurate information related to cervical cancer risk to address unrealistic expectations (ie, individuals may have unreasonably low or high estimates of their cervical cancer risk).10 Lastly, as an incentive to each program participant, all screening tests were free. The patient navigation program was designed to be multilevel and to integrate general principles of behavioral economics by taking into account key factors that patients consider when making screening decisions.

The patient navigation program demonstrated its effectiveness at improving cervical cancer screening through interviews and focus groups that took place between program staff members and participants. In particular, 94% of program staff (including patient navigators, care providers, and others who participated in the implementation of the program) agreed that it had addressed the needs of cervical cancer screening among Hispanic women and participants were either very satisfied or satisfied working with the program. In addition, patients reported a positive experience using the program services provided, including increased knowledge about cervical cancer and HPV and stronger motivation to participate in cancer screenings. Overall, the program has navigated 4500 women in the target population and increased the 3-year screening rate from 65% to 80% during the 3-year study period. 

Model Structure

Although empirical studies based on actual data may produce important insights into the CE of a given patient navigation program, they are costly or may not be able to assess the long-term impact of cervical cancer screening strategies.12 Simulation modeling—particularly microsimulation models—offers a more flexible, cost-effective approach to conducting economic evaluations and making informed decisions compared with studies based on actual behavioral observations.12 By incorporating the best available biological, clinical, and epidemiological evidence, a microsimulation model of cervical cancer enables researchers to simulate a population of interest, capture the disease progression of each individual, predict the long-term consequences of different interventions within a virtual environment, and provide insights into the CE of different strategies designed for cervical cancer prevention.

Our model structure is as follows (a detailed model description can be found in the eAppendix [available at]): our microsimulation model incorporates state-of-the-art knowledge from previous cervical cancer decision models, and estimated parameters based on our specific program.10,13,14 The natural history of cervical cancer was modeled using 16 states, including: well (healthy) HPV infection, low- and high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (SILs), hysterectomy for benign disease, undetected and detected cervical cancer stages I to IV, survival from cancer, and death due to cervical cancer or other causes (Figure 1). Transitions between health states were governed by transition probabilities that were dependent on age, SILs level, cancer stage, and screening or vaccination strategies. The basic cycle length was 1 year.

Each year, women in the simulation model could be infected with HPV or stay uninfected. We assumed all cases of cervical cancer start with HPV infection, which is consistent with the epidemiologic finding that HPV causes a majority of cervical cancer cases.15,16 HPV infection, clearance, and progression to low- or high-grade SILs is a complex process that varies depending on HPV virus type and patient characteristics, such as age and immune status. We used average transition probabilities for all virus types (ie, we did not distinguish between different types of HPV), which simplified our model without losing important information. The incidence of HPV infection was modeled to be a function of age, and the parameters of the incidence function did not change throughout the simulation.

Women infected with HPV could regress to well, stay unchanged, or progress to low- or high-grade SILs. Similarly, women with low- or high-grade SILs could undergo regression, no change, or progression to stage I cancer without symptoms. Current knowledge about the natural history of cervical cancer suggests that most HPV infections will regress on their own and some persistent HPV infections may progress to high-grade SILs and cancer.17,18

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