Heart disease communication strategies

As health writers, we play a pivotal role in supporting behaviour modification through effective heart disease communication. Heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organisation.

Heart disease

Heart disease risk can be reduced through modifiable lifestyle behaviours, including diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Here is some recent research to help you communicate about heart disease effectively.

1. Heart disease-related Tweets that include a source and Twitter handle get more Retweets

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania wanted to know more about which heart disease-related tweets go viral and what characteristics are associated with retransmission.

The team analysed a random sample of 1,251 tweets over six years in the US based on heart health content.

Results found the number of retweets was positively associated with the source of the health organisation, message utility and use of a twitter handle.

Retweets were negatively related to the use of a URL and a source that was not a health organisation.

Compared to risk factor tweets, treatment and management tweets predicted fewer retweets while supportive tweets predicted more retweets.

2. Communicating heart disease risk factors did not change behaviours for women who had preeclampsia

Preeclampsia during pregnancy is a common yet dangerous disease.

Preeclampsia not only increases the risk for mother and baby but also increases the mothers’ risk for heart disease later in life.

Researchers from the Netherlands conducted a risk assessment and survey to assess intended healthy behaviours in women (now in their 50s) who had preeclampsia during their pregnancies.

Researches hypothesised that women who were informed of having a higher risk for cardiovascular disease would adopt healthier behaviours to reduce this risk. However, the results did not support this hypothesis.

The open-access study was published in the journal of Hypertension in Pregnancy.

3. Social media is a powerful tool for health professionals in cardiology

Social media platforms like Twitter are having a growing impact on the world of heart disease communication, according to an article published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Professionals in the industry are more readily engaging with social media and seeing the benefits of its ability to disseminate information – not only between professionals but also for patients as well.

4. The tool used to communicate atherosclerotic heart disease matters

Researchers undertook a randomised survey study of 2708 patients across 140 US medical practices to understand how different risk tool presentations impacted on patients’ perceptions of risk and preferences for treatment.

The research team determined that the format, time horizon, and outcome used for risk estimation influence patient perceptions and should be considered when designing risk communication tools.

Patients who were shown lifetime risk estimates had higher risk perception and willingness for therapy than when shown 10-year estimates. Additionally, pictogram risk displays may decrease risk perception and consideration for treatment.

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5. A significant barrier to heart disease prevention and treatment is low health literacy

A scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation summarised the current health literacy issues and their adverse effects impacting patients with cardiovascular disease.

The statement also provides strategies to address low health literacy and the implications this could have for long-term prevention and treatment strategies.

6. We need targeted heart disease communication for pregnant women

Australian researchers aimed to investigate the processes around decision-making, support and clinical experiences for pregnant women with heart disease

Results revealed a lack of healthcare programs and information are available to pregnant women with heart disease.

There is an opportunity for new guideline and resource development, taking into consideration the shared-decision making process across multi-disciplinary teams as well as the patient.

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7. Effective heart disease communication: what to say and how to say it

Effective management of abnormal cholesterol levels is crucial to lowering heart disease risk.

Current guidelines recommend patients to be involved in the shared decision-making (SDM) process regarding treatment.

However, there is limited data available advising healthcare professionals on how to communicate the benefits and risks in treatment options to provide the best SDM platform.

In an open-access review, published in the Current Opinion Cardiology, researchers discuss their recommendations for a four-part model for effective SDM communication.

8. Technology and hypertension – benefits and pitfalls

There are many benefits of technology for heart disease communication, such as education and tools to help patients learn about their disease. However, there is a wealth of misinformation in these tools and we need tighter controls around data security and safety.

Italian researchers writing for Cardiology Practice discuss the advantages and disadvantages the role communication technology has on the management of hypertension for both patients and healthcare providers.

9. How useful are online risk calculators for heart disease?

There are many online risk calculators for assessing heart disease risk.

These calculators are useful because they can act as a first stage provider of health information to an individual.

Australian researchers wanted to know more about the usefulness and accuracy of these calculators. The team also wanted to know what, if any, action was taken after using a risk calculator.

The team’s results, appearing in the Journal of Internet Medicine, suggest that online calculators are not readily understandable and their actionability is poor.

Additionally, entering the same clinical information produces widely varying results with little explanation.

“Developers need to address actionability as well as clinical validity and understandability to improve usefulness to consumers with low health literacy,” the authors argue.

10. Suboptimal health services are the most significant barrier to treatment adherence

Kenyan researchers conducted focus groups involving 65 participants from Nairobi to understand current knowledge and perceptions around heart disease and how these mediate the disease course.

Results found poverty and illiteracy to be associated with negative lifestyle-related behaviours such as smoking, consuming alcohol, lack of physical activity and poor diet choices, which are implicated in the development of CVD and related diseases.

Many people interviewed for the research viewed the available health services and medicine as sub-optimal and believed it is the most significant barrier to adhering to treatment.