Patient Navigators Reduce ED Visits, Hospital Readmissions

Patient navigators in 3 health systems were able to reduce excessive emergency department visits by 43%, according to a 1-year pilot study by Accenture and the Highmark Foundation.

Patient navigators in 3 health systems were able to reduce excessive emergency department visits by 43%, according to a 1-year pilot study by Accenture and the Highmark Foundation.

In addition to the decrease in emergency department visits, one health system reported a 60% reduction in 30-day readmissions and another increased colonoscopy screenings by 13%. The pilot included 3 hospitals in western Pennsylvania.

“Patient navigation not only creates a one-to-one connection for the patient, it serves as a low-cost investment that delivers significant value to care delivery,” David Balderson, who leads patient navigation at Accenture, said in a statement.

The certified patient navigators in the pilot were laypersons who took on important non-clinical tasks, including picking up prescriptions from hospital pharmacies, arranging transportation, connecting patients to community resources, or conducting post-discharge follow-ups.

“The essence of patient navigation is our responsibility to use finite clinical resources wisely to deliver quality healthcare no matter people’s circumstances,” Harold Freeman, MD, founder of the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute, said. “Its roots began in cancer care 2 decades ago, but the benefits of patient navigators are transferable, reaching beyond a single disease or income bracket.”

Unlike nurses, case managed, or clinical patient navigators, the patient navigators in the pilot were typically members of the community trained to help people manage non-clinical barriers that could cause patients to deviate from their care plan.

Their work offset clinicians’ tasks by 25%, which allowed them to focus more on patient care. Accenture expects patient navigator demand will nearly double in the next 3 years.

“In initiating the pilot program, we recognized the opportunity to improve and assure timely access to quality healthcare for the communities we serve, while creating sustainable employment opportunities,” Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation, said. “We look forward to replicating the successes achieved in that study in other communities in the future.”