Heather Heuer, Lung Cancer Patient Navigator at UP Health System – Marquette, isn’t letting a global pandemic get in the way of caring for her patients. It’s not her style to step away when things get tough.
“You have to make do with where you’re at in life and make the best of it,” she said when asked about how she’s coping with caring for patients as Cancer and COVID-19 collide.
For the past nine years, Heather has been working at UP Health System – Marquette, helping cancer patients navigate from diagnosis to survivorship. In her mind, every patient is an essential patient—and even an unprecedented pandemic won’t change how she approaches caring for at-risk lung cancer patients.
COVID-19 has changed the way Heather works, but it hasn’t affected the way she puts patients first. She stepped up to the challenge and began supporting patients remotely. “We are able to see more patients now via telehealth than before,” she said. “We’ve also changed the way we see patients who come into the office by strategically placing chairs to maintain social distancing and doing everything we can to limit multiple trips to the hospital.”
Heather also mentioned that she is using tools like Eon’s Essential Patient Report (EPR) to help prioritize and manage patients right now. Every week, she reviews her EPR, which segments patients based on lung-cancer risk. Then reaches out to patients and their physicians who need immediate follow-up.
“These reports have changed my approach to scheduling patients,” she said. “The report helps us prioritize patients based on probability of risk.”
When Heather is with patients, she is thorough and always available to help them make informed decisions. “Some patients have questions and concerns about coming in for care right now,” she said. “As a patient navigator, this is new territory for me. In the past, a patient would get a diagnosis and would be able to come in right away. Now, our process is evolving to meet the needs of our patients and this new environment we’re all facing.”
Of course, Heather empathizes with her patients and understands. But her calm demeanor, clinical approach, and optimistic attitude go into high gear as she talks to her patients. “I am able to give our patients helpful information so they can make an informed decision. I educate them about the precautions our hospital has in place, and help ease their mind,” she said.
Her role is to educate her patients and be there as an excellent resource to answer questions that come up along the way. Heather admits things are different now. She said there’s a “pre-COVID and post-COVID way of life” that we are all going to have to figure out. But she’s hopeful for the future and what’s to come.
“I am embracing hobbies and focusing on my health, mind, and reconnecting with people,” she said. “It’s sad that it takes a pandemic to reconnect with people, but it’s also been a great pause.”
In her spare time, Heather is an outdoor enthusiast and can be found exploring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on her mountain bike, paddleboard, and kayak.
Thank you for being a Patient Champion, Heather. We are proud of you and the important work you do every day for Essential Patients.