Targeted cardiovascular screening program effective

A Heart Foundation pilot program that recalls at-risk Australians via a text message from their GP clinic is seen as a potential lifesaver.

The Heart Health Check (HHC) Recall pilot study was rolled out in more than 200 GP clinics across the country, where about 42,000 at-risk Australian patients received an invitation from their GP to come in for a HHC via SMS, which led to a 14-fold increase in HHCs compared to control practices.

Results were recently published in the Australian Journal of General Practice.

The pilot is the largest targeted cardiovascular disease (CVD) screening trial of its kind in Australian general practice, potentially paving the way for a structured Australian CVD screening program in the future.

“This is the most robust Australian evidence that shows a targeted CVD screening program could be both effective and feasible in general practice,” says Heart Foundation Healthcare Programs Manager Natalie Raffoul.

“Just like Australia has dedicated screening programs for many cancers, we need to consider one of Australia’s leading causes of death, heart disease.”

Avoiding potentially life-threatening events

New South Wales GP Dr Raya Grishina-Gunn says the pilot program allowed her to treat patients at high risk of having a heart attack or CVD event, unbeknown to them.

“Thanks to the HHC Recall pilot program, I identified several high-risk patients after conducting their Heart Health Checks,” says Dr Raya.

“Based on their results, some patients were then referred to cardiologists for further investigation and procedures.”

While patients avoided potentially life-threatening events, the pilot program also afforded the clinic the opportunity to discuss and highlight the importance of a healthy heart.

“Thanks to the pilot program, it was found that some patients needed stents to rectify blocked arteries, some patients who were found to be at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years were prescribed medication, while I worked with others to help them make lifestyle changes to lower their risk and keep on top of their heart health,” says Dr Raya.

After the personalised messages were sent to those patients who met the program’s criteria, Dr Raya’s clinic was surprised by the number of booking requests that came through.

“Our patients were really excited to be recalled in for a HHC, and our phone lines were very busy with people wanting to book a check after the messages went out,” she says.

Early detection key

Being at high risk of heart disease can be almost completely symptomless until it’s too late.

Quite often, the first sign of heart disease is a heart attack.

“International CVD and chronic disease screening programs have been rolled out in the UK and New Zealand, helping to boost early detection of CVD and help people better manage their risk factors,” says Ms Raffoul.

“The time has come for Australia to reap the health and economic benefits of developing its own CVD screening program.”

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