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Education-the Heart of Women's Cardiac Care

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, June 13, 2011
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The hospital education programs often focus on the differences between men and women linked to potential cardiac events.

The 344-licensed-bed Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, WI, launched a seven-minute online Web evaluation program, HeartAware Risk Assessment, to help patients carry out a self-evaluation and help determine if they need extra care. The program has been especially effective for women, with a goal of helping them take steps toward preventing a heart attack, says Monica McDonald, MD, FACS, FACC, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at the hospital.

The questionnaires were first released in February and 577 people completed them. Of those, 355 people were considered at risk for heart disease, 62%, according to the hospital. About 40% submitted personal data to the hospital and followed up by making appointments with the hospital or personal physician, according to McDonald.

Such questionnaires have been considered effective at drawing in women to improve their care. Indeed, of those who took the survey, 435 were women, and 142 men. The questionnaire was inviting to women because, too often, “women are usually the caregivers at home and the last ones to take care of themselves,” McDonald says. Those people who filled out the questionnaires were then invited to see their primary care specialist or seek treatment at the hospital, McDonald says.

Success Key No. 1: Gender-based focus

The University of Minnesota Physicians Heart at the 352-licensed-bed Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, MN, offers a multidisciplinary team approach at its women’s heart clinic, focusing on prevention and comprehensive evaluation. It also is focusing on illnesses related to women’s heart disease, such as microvascular angina.

“Heart disease is a scary deal and I want patients to feel comfortable with the care they are receiving. A separate clinic for women both in primary prevention (those without known disease) and specialized heart care (for those with symptoms or known heart disease) is better overall service to the patient,” says C. Jennifer Dankle, DO, the cardiovascular specialist who supervises the University of Minnesota Physicians Heart at Fairview Southdale Hospital’s women’s clinic.

Operating for only slightly more than a year, the clinic specializes in women’s care with a focus on preventive services. “It is for all women interested in learning what their personal risk of developing heart disease is and how to prevent it,” says Dankle.

One of the areas that too often systems don’t focus enough on is chest pain, Dankle says. “This is an area my organization spends a lot of time and money and effort on just trying to educate our patients and doctors. Women are unique in their presentation and often themselves don’t understand how predominant heart disease is.” 

While chest pains are often prevalent conditions for men having heart attacks, they may not be a prime symptom for women. But there are other variables that must be examined, Dankle says, such as extreme fatigue or shortness of breath.

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