Derivation of a Unique, Algorithm-Based Approach to Cancer Patient Navigator Workload Management

Xiyitao Zhu, Peng Zhang, Hyojung Kang, Lavanya Marla, Marlene Isabel Robles Granda, Rebecca A. Ebert-Allen, Sarah Stewart de Ramirez, Tenille Oderwald, Mackenzie McGee, Jonathan A. Handler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE: Cancer patient navigators (CPNs) can decrease the time from diagnosis to treatment, but workloads vary widely, which may lead to burnout and less optimal navigation. Current practice for patient distribution among CPNs at our institution approximates random distribution. A literature search did not uncover previous reports of an automated algorithm to distribute patients to CPNs. We sought to develop an automated algorithm to fairly distribute new patients among CPNs specializing in the same cancer type(s) and assess its performance through simulation on a retrospective data set. METHODS: Using a 3-year data set, a proxy for CPN work was identified and multiple models were developed to predict the upcoming week's workload for each patient. An XGBoost-based predictor was retained on the basis of its superior performance. A distribution model was developed to fairly distribute new patients among CPNs within a specialty on the basis of predicted work needed. The predicted work included the week's predicted workload from a CPN's existing patients plus that of newly distributed patients to the CPN. Resulting workload unfairness was compared between predictor-informed and random distribution. RESULTS: Predictor-informed distribution significantly outperformed random distribution for equalizing weekly workloads across CPNs within a specialty. CONCLUSION: This derivation work demonstrates the feasibility of an automated model to distribute new patients more fairly than random assignment (with unfairness assessed using a workload proxy). Improved workload management may help reduce CPN burnout and improve navigation assistance for patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2200170
JournalJCO Clinical Cancer Informatics
StatePublished - May 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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