For cancer patients, an advocate during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published June 26, 2020

There for the most difficult journeys. For the Health of America.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about healthcare. Patients used to receiving care in person are talking to doctors over video. Caregivers who once stayed by a loved one’s hospital bed must now wear a mask and wait in a lobby. For cancer patients and their caregivers, what was already a difficult experience has become even more so. This Premera Blue Cross patient liaison is there to help them on their journey.

Before COVID-19, Heidi Hart, Premera Blue Cross’ patient liaison, kept an office right in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a cancer treatment center. She met members at the elevator, escorted them to registration and even went along with them to appointments to help take notes or follow up on questions. She could troubleshoot an insurance claim or walk down the hallway to chat with a nurse about a patient’s upcoming appointment. Now she’s home, working with patients over the phone.

Coping with a new set of needs

“Patients are still getting excellent care,” says Hart, “but it’s harder to build that rapport on the phone.” Rapport is key to Hart’s work. She aims to be a patient or a caregiver’s resource for anything they need beyond the care doctors and other healthcare providers give. Now, she’s helping patients and caregivers cope with a new set of needs.

One of her patients depended on family members for income. When the pandemic swept through Seattle, both family members lost their jobs. Hart says the patient wasn’t sure how to afford food or medication, let alone make it through the difficulty of cancer treatment. Hart was able to connect her to community resources to meet those needs.

Another client sought Hart’s help coping with not being able to be near her husband "Bill*," a cancer patient, because people in cancer treatment are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and must be isolated. Hart encouraged her to pursue creative ways to support him without actually being able to be by his side, including Bill's wife's idea to start a prayer chain for him. While Bill was in the hospital, Premera's patient liaison worked with his wife on different ways she could connect with her husband virtually through platforms like Zoom and FaceTime. Hart knows virtual visits aren't ideal, but they helped keep the patient connected to his family and provided comfort to his wife, who, under normal circumstances, would have been at his bedside.

Hart finds she must continue finding creative ways to help her patients chart this new territory. She says the way she works has completely changed, but the job, to be in the member’s corner, is exactly the same.

*We're not using this patient's name to protect his privacy.

Premera Blue Cross is a licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of 36 locally owned and operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 35 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.