Colorado works to establish registry for patient navigators
By Shannon Barbare | Office of Communications
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is leading an effort to establish a competency-based credentialing program and registry for the state’s rapidly growing patient navigator workforce.
A patient navigator (also known as a health navigator or resource navigator) is a part of a health care team that helps an individual overcome barriers to quality care, including access, literacy, transportation and more. Patient navigators reduce health disparities.
Between 2013 and 2018, the department will have invested more than $32 million in grants that include patient navigation training and service. The Patient Navigator Workforce Development Initiative aims to define the competencies and standardize the training for these non-licensed personnel to add a layer of protection for patients and employers.
“Patient navigators are trained to work with underserved populations, and they become trusted by the community,” said Pat Uris, who leads the effort in the department’s Prevention Services Division. “The evidence is clear that they improve patient outcomes while reducing health care costs.”
Patient navigators have been around since the 1990s, initially working with cancer patients. Today, they work in hospitals, community health centers, private practices and other agencies, assisting individuals across the continuum of care, from prevention to end of life. Their purpose aligns with the goals of the Affordable Care Act.
Currently, many patient navigators are trained through two state health department-funded programs, the Colorado Patient Navigator Training Collaborative and Otero Junior College. The initiative hopes to find sustainable ways to finance these training programs throughout the state.
Both the credentialed training program and the patient navigator registry will be voluntary. Initiative members envision that a trainee will learn a standard set of basic skills and pass a competency test, which will earn them a place on the registry. Employers who use the registry for new hires will know what they’re getting. The system is expected to launch within two years.
While other states have credentialing programs for community health workers, Colorado will be the first to have one for patient navigators. Defining a specific skill set to distinguish the two occupations is important. While patient navigators work with individuals, systems and communities as a member of a health care team, community health workers are lay members of the community who usually are sent out by community-based organizations. Getting accurate data, such as average salary, is challenging because the people who do this kind of work have many different titles. The Colorado team is working through these challenges.
Recently, the department convened an expert panel to share ideas about how such a standardized system could work in Colorado. The panel members provided input on how to develop the standard competencies and skills test, how to potentially move training to the community college system and how to gather workforce data. In addition to experts from the state health department, representatives included those from:
Health care economics.
The Department of Health Care Policy and Finance.
The Department of Regulatory Agencies.
The Colorado Workforce Council.
Patient navigation training programs and providers.
Health care agencies.
The Colorado Area Health Education Center.
The Center for Advancing Professional Excellence.
“We had the right people at the table to move this initiative forward,” Uris said. The next step is a workforce study. The study will ask potential employers to “describe the skills” they need in this kind of health care worker. It also will help determine how many navigators will be needed in the future and in what areas they likely will be used. The study, which will be conducted by the Colorado Health Institute, is expected to be completed by early summer. Meanwhile, the Governor’s Office of Information Technology is beginning work on registry design.