Heather Heron-Speirs

Heather Heron-Speirs, LlB(Hons), MA(Psych)(Hons), PGDipPP, PhD is a psychologist in private practice and an independent psycho-oncology researcher.  Heather briefly practiced law before raising a family and re-training in psychology.  En route she experienced both depression and aggressive breast cancer, and found these experiences 'educational' also.  

Heather's research has drawn her to the equity needs among cancer patients, particularly those of men.  By meta-analysis she found that psycho-oncological intervention could deliver greater beneficial effect to particular populations, notably men, likely because of greater baseline need and distress.  In a follow-up qualitative study of the particular nature of cancer-related distress among NZ provincial men, Heather found lack of control was a key feature.  Her present translational research project is a first step towards addressing this need for control and empowerment among cancer patients, beginning with prostate cancer patients. She is collaborating with Massey University, independent Maori health researcher Dr John Waldon, the Cancer Society, and MidCentral DHB.   

Heather's private practice work is in an entirely unrelated field, delivering sexual abuse trauma therapy under the ACC Sensitive Claims framework.  Her work is mostly in the Horowhenua, and includes people with intellectual disability.  She is a colourful speaker.

Orientation of newly diagnosed cancer patients:  Improving patient empowerment, equity, and various outcomes, while saving clinicians' time 

'Patient-centred care', 'patient empowerment', and 'informed consent' have long been aspirations but evidence suggests that many cancer patients remain bewildered about their disease and the journey ahead.  This is so despite clinicians' sometimes perceiving otherwise, and despite clinicians' best efforts to inform patients.  It means many patients have inadequate control over both their treatment and their lives generally, and are unable to plan, causing unnecessary distress, counterproductive treatment-relevant actions, and treatment system inefficiency. 

The predicament is described, focussing on the needs of men, whose ability to communicate need during consultations can be restricted by powerful cultural norms and poorer health literacy, as well as pressures of the moment.  Patient orientation, delivered shortly after diagnosis, and before any complex treatment decisions must be made, is proposed as a solution.  As a standardised, highly accessible audio-visual communication, orientation would empower patients with the generic overview and basic education they need to take better advantage of individually-tailored information and discussion thereafter provided by clinicians.  It should also mean time savings for clinicians, both during treatment planning, and downstream.  A prototype of this intervention is to be researched with prostate cancer



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