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Education-the Heart of Women's Cardiac Care

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, June 13, 2011
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Healthcare leaders are making a push to improve women’s heart health through educational campaigns and women’s center programs to gain patient referrals while focusing on a top killer of women—cardiovascular disease. Hospitals are emphasizing the need for women to seek medical care and are focusing on the differences between men and women in cardiac issues.

By offering seminars, online programs, and even cooking classes, hospitals are attracting more women, many of whom eventually seek medical care. Clinically, hospitals are beginning to focus on women’s cardiac needs to improve their cardiology service lines.

“Most hospitals have a woman’s service line already, but those service lines have a lot of areas to cover,” according to Mary Anne Graf, vice president of women and children’s services at Bon Secours Virginia Health System, which operates four hospitals.

“From a programmatic point of view, if you look at screening for cardiac events, you can screen women, educate them, and acquire brand loyalty. Women make 80% of healthcare decisions.”

Hospitals are in a position to develop niche programs in women’s health by “leveraging strengths outside reproductive health,” Graf says. Hospitals can make a big difference in patient outcomes, especially with an increasingly older population that is dealing with obesity and other issues.

While hospitals are trying to improve outcomes for women and draw in more patients, they also are reaching out to primary care physicians, many of whom still do not recognize the potential warning sign differences or symptoms of heart disease in women versus men. The lack of awareness often results in less aggressive treatment by healthcare providers. A 2006 survey conducted by the American Heart Association found that 43% of women are unaware that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. Among primary care physicians, only 8% knew that more women than men die each year from cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA.

“We’re inclined to put resources in a well-run operation within the hospital to make sure the education is out there to get people—women in particular—into the system to be able to understand they may be at risk for cardiac disease,” says Dawn Rudolph, president and CEO of Saint Thomas Hospital, whose 541-licensed-bed hospital system is based in Nashville. “It’s about access; it’s about leveraging the resources we have. Our physicians are just one component of
that initiative.”

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