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BMC Health Serv Res. 2018 Feb 8;18(1):96. doi: 10.1186/s12913-018-2889-0.

Navigation delivery models and roles of navigators in primary care: a scoping literature review.

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McMaster University, School of Nursing, Hamilton, Canada.
McMaster University, School of Nursing, Hamilton, Canada.
University of Toronto, Faculty of Nursing, Toronto, Canada.



Systems navigation provided by individuals or teams is emerging as a strategy to reduce barriers to care. Complex clients with health and social support needs in primary care experience fragmentation and gaps in service delivery. There is great diversity in the design of navigation and a lack of consensus on navigation roles and models in primary care.


We conducted a scoping literature review following established methods to explore the existing evidence on system navigation in primary care. To be included, studies had to be published in English between 1990 and 2013, and include a navigator or navigation process in a primary care setting that involves the community- based social services beyond the health care system.


We included 34 papers in our review, most of which were descriptive papers, and the majority originated in the US. Most of the studies involved studies of individual navigators (lay person or nurse) and were developed to meet the needs of specific patient populations. We make an important contribution to the literature by highlighting navigation models that address both health and social service navigation. The emergence and development of system navigation signals an important shift in the recognition that health care and social care are inextricably linked especially to address the social determinants of health.


There is a high degree of variance in the literature, but descriptive studies can inform further innovation and development of navigation interventions in primary care.


Community health; Models of care; Navigator; Patient navigation; Primary health care; Scoping literature review; Social services; System navigation

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