GW Cancer Institute launches online program to guide patient caregivers

The GW Cancer Institute wants to help those caring for cancer patients with a new free online program.

The institute, which was formed in 2003 and rechartered in 2009, launched an online training program on Thursday, which offers anyone the opportunity to take a free 20-hour program to explain how to be an effective caregiver, often called a patient navigator, for someone with cancer. The program puts the University in line with the Commission on Cancer’s new requirement for cancer centers to provide patient navigator training.

The institute began its effort by creating requirements, called competency statements, which outline what information caregivers need to know, like basic medical terms and how to cover medical expenses. The program is being funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the release.

Mandi Pratt-Chapman, the director of the institute and the leader of the development of the online program at GW, said proper training of patient navigators is critical to having effective patient care.

“Patient navigators ensure that barriers to care are addressed for those at highest risk for cancer,” she said.

The training program also helps cancer centers and their institutions stay up to date on new patient navigation program standards, improve the caliber of their patient navigation program and protect themselves from potential legal liability, Pratt-Chapman said in a release.

Stanford University has a more bulked-up program for cancer patients where patient navigators volunteer by offering food, newspapers and magazines to patients in the center, according to a release.

Before creating the training program, Pratt-Chapman, along with her colleagues Anne Willis, the director of the Division of Cancer Survivorship, and Leah Masselink, an assistant professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, dedicated 18 months to compiling a list of core competencies to serve as a model for their program.

The trio finalized the list of standards last month, which was then published in the Journal of Oncology Navigation and Survivorship. It is the first comprehensive list of standard core competencies that every patient navigator will need to know, Pratt-Chapman said.

“This is a huge step forward for the field,” she said in an email. “Given that patient navigation is now a requirement for the cancer centers who are accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer, this [program] puts the GW Cancer Institute center stage as the profession grows nationally.”

Pratt-Chapman chairs a task force to develop a national certification process for oncology patient navigators. The program will certify that navigators are meeting the core competencies laid out in the report.

The institute also receives funding from the Avon Foundation for Women every year and received $100,000 last week to help create a similar patient navigator program for Avon. The foundation concentrates its efforts on eliminating breast cancer and helping women in cases of domestic abuse and gender violence.

The institute joins other cancer centers at GW, including the Katzen Cancer Research Center and the GW Cancer Center. Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said the University plans on launching a research institute focused on cancer, but would need to raise at least $10 million of seed money before starting up.

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