The role of patient navigators in improving caregiver management of childhood asthma
Childhood asthma is a significant public health problem in the United States. Barriers to effective asthma management in children include the need for caregivers to identify and manage diverse environmental triggers and promote appropriate use of preventive asthma medications. Although health care providers may introduce asthma treatments and care plans, many providers lack the time and capacity to educate caregivers about asthma in an ongoing, sustained manner. To help address these complexities of asthma care, many providers and caregivers rely on patient navigators (defined as persons who provide patients with a particular set of services and who address barriers to care) (Dohan & Schrag, 2005). Despite growing interest in their value for chronic disease management, researchers and providers know little about how or what benefits patient navigators can provide to caregivers in managing asthma in children. To explore this issue, we conducted a mixed-method evaluation involving focus groups and a survey with caregivers of children with moderate-to-severe asthma who were enrolled in the Merck Childhood Asthma Network Initiative (MCAN). Findings suggest that patient navigators may support children’s asthma management by providing individualized treatment plans and hands-on practice, improving caregivers’ understanding of environmental triggers and their mitigation, and giving clear, accessible instructions for proper medication management. Study results may help to clarify and further develop the role of patient navigators for the effective management of asthma in children.