Personalized Advice Helps Patients Cut Heart Disease Risk

A new study shows that physicians and other healthcare providers can help patients cut their risk of heart disease by considering age and socioeconomic status. Rather than telling patients to “be healthy”, a more personalized approach may be more effective after a patient is told they are at high risk for developing heart disease.

Dr Hannah Farrimond, from Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter, studied the reactions of patients who are told to change their lifestyle to reduce heart disease risk.

"In the past, researchers have thought we need to scare people into feeling at risk to make them change. This study suggests that even those who downplayed their risk still made changes, such as taking statins or exercising more. In other words, we don't need to scare people to get results. Clinical staff need to find other ways of encouraging patients to make the necessary lifestyle changes, such as offering personalised advice," says Farrimond. …”offering 'added-value' information about a specific CHD [coronary heart disease] preventative diet” may be a more sensitive approach.

Farrimond says most people do downplay their health risks. The tendency is to accept the risk of heart disease as a normal part of aging. Telling patients they are susceptible to heart disease may hinder rather than help. Instead, intervening to help patients cut heart disease risk should include personalized guidelines, which take into consideration the age of the patient, as well as socioeconomic status.

Dr. Farrimond says patients still may be receptive to taking medications and increasing exercise when given more personalized advice about reducing their risk factors for heart disease. The authors write, "The goal is to produce interventions which are sensitive to the lives and social position of those who find themselves at 'high risk' of coronary heart disease (CHD) in later-middle age, and which inspire change rather than inhibit it."

Patients…”need specific advice on how to protect their heart. GPs and nurses are well-placed to give the type of personalised information patients deserve."

Most people already think they are eating a healthy diet say the authors. Suggestions to move away from repeating well-known dietary rules, to a more personalized approach to patient care may better help patients lose weight, exercise more, and eat healthier, cutting their risk of heart disease.