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Medical Tour Guides

Legislation pending to offer patients help with health-care maze.

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When Marva Turner underwent breast cancer treatment at Baptist Hospital, a health-care social worker was by her side. Unfortunately, many patients have to endure this process alone, which can lead to misinformation and fear. Congress has proposed a bill to ensure that patients with chronic disease are no longer left alone to manage the health-care maze.

The Patient Navigator, Outreach, and Chronic Disease Prevention Act is a sort of "buddy system" bill that pairs patients with a health-care professional. The "navigator" would help patients schedule appointments, arrange transportation, and identify financial sources to pay for medical care.

"This year 30,850 people will be diagnosed with cancer and another 12,710 will die in Tennessee," said Turner. "This legislation can benefit people in Memphis. For people who are isolated and don't know where to get help, just knowing somebody is there would really be good for them."

The bill has garnered support from several health-care organizations, including the American Cancer Society, which has lobbied Tennessee congressional members to support the legislation. If approved, the National Cancer Institute and similar health alliances would become responsible for allocating grants to outreach organizations. Patients requesting navigator services through the American Cancer Society would pay fees based on their financial ability to do so, said ACS community advocacy spokesperson Dena Owens. n

The proposal is modeled after successful programs such as the Harlem Navigator Program in New York City. After that program began in 1990, New York's early diagnosis of breast cancer has improved from one out of 20 to four out of 10. Kansas City, Missouri's program reduced the number of days from cancer screening to treatment from 176 to 28. Hazard, Kentucky's program has lowered the one-year cost of hospitalization from more than $1 million to $250,000.

The bill is currently pending before the senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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